WASHINGTON—The posthumous Silver Star that the Air Force will award Friday to Francis Gary Powers, the U-2 spy plane pilot shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960, helps set the record straight on a key episode of the Cold War, his children said Thursday at the Pentagon.
Powers was detained for two years and underwent 107 days of intense interrogations at Moscow’s infamous Lubyanka prison. Though pressured with threats of death, as well as sleep and food deprivation, “Captain Powers steadfastly refused all attempts to give sensitive defense information or be exploited for propaganda purposes,” the medal citation reads.
The flight was long considered a civilian CIA operation, and thus ineligible for a military medal. But declassified documents in the late 1990s showed it had been a joint CIA-Air Force mission, and Powers, who died in 1977, was soon awarded a POW Medal. More than a decade later, after other Air Force flyers detained at Lubyanka received medals for heroism, Powers was declared eligible for a Silver Star for his performance under interrogation.
“I believe the Silver Star is an appropriate award for my father for what he endured from ’60 to ’62, and it helps to set the record straight after 50 years,” said Gary Powers Jr, 47.
Despite his Soviet ordeal, Gary Powers was criticized during the height of the Cold war for being captured. His daughter, Dee Powers, 55, recalled on Thursday a traumatic incident caused by a thoughtless teacher when she was in third grade.
“He told me and he told the entire class that my father should have killed himself,” she said.
The medal ceremony will close the books on such sentiments, Powers’ children said. The deceased flyer’s grandchildren, Trey Powers, 9, and Lindsey Berry, 29, will accept the medal from Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz in a Pentagon ceremony.