Cold War Crisis exhibit to open

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The story of civilian pilot Francis Gary Powers is revealed through photographs and memorabilia in “Cold War Crisis: The U-2 Incident” at the American Museum of Science and Energy in Oak Ridge.

The exhibit will be open March 12-Sept. 11 in the museum at 300 S. Tulane Ave.

Powers was flying for the Central Intelligence Agency when he was shot down over the Soviet Union on May 1, 1960, during Operation Overflight.

The exhibit details his capture and trial for espionage, his imprisonment and first Cold War prisoner exchange.

The National Electronics Museum, the Cold War Museum and the Powers family collaborated on the traveling exhibition to educate people on a critical Cold War event and to promote the creation of a permanent Cold War Museum. Details are available at www.coldwar.org.

Powers was born on Aug. 17, 1929, in Burdine, Ky., a poor coal-mining community in the heart of the Cumberland Mountains.

In 1945, the family moved to Detroit, where his father took a job in a defense plant. They moved back to the Cumberlands after World War II, and Powers attended Grundy High School in Grundy, Va. The following year he enrolled in Milligan College in Johnson City.

Powers went from being a CIA U-2 pilot on a top-secret mission to an international figure caught in the cross-fire of political conflict, military tension and economic competition between the United States and the Soviet Union.

His commentary is extracted from his 1970 account of the U-2 incident, Operation Overflight, his prison diary and a secret journal he kept during his missions.

The 1st Weather Reconnaissance Squadron (Provisional) was the first U-2 unit to be formed in April 1956. By 1960, 10 U-2s were in operation under the cover of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, supposedly conducting meteorological research.

Code named Operation Overflight, the U-2s flew overhead reconnaissance missions from bases in Turkey, Japan and the United Kingdom. The real purpose of these flights was to photograph Soviet military installations.

Included in the exhibition is an enlarged flight map of Powers’ mission on Nov. 20, 1956, indicating his route from Turkey, the aerial photo taken of the presidential palace in Baghdad, the film canister containing film from this mission, Powers’ U-2 pressure suit, and a U-2 pilot’s “blood chit,” a message for help and assistance translated into 14 languages so that a downed pilot could communicate with the local population.

The most experienced U-2 pilot at the time, Powers was chosen for the flight into Soviet airspace. He took off from Peshawar, Pakistan, to fly over the test center at Tyuratem and various industrial and military sites at Plesetsk and Sverdlovsk.

He was scheduled to land in Bodo, Norway, nine hours later. About four hours into the flight, on May 1, 1960, 14 Soviet SA-2 anticraft missiles were fired in the direction of Powers’ U-2.

The detonation by one of these missiles caused structural damage to the tail section and sent the plane spiraling down into Sverdlousk, where Powers parachuted 15,000 feet to land on a collective farm and was captured by the authorities.

Questioned for three months, he went to trial on Aug. 17, 1960, in Moscow, where he was convicted of espionage and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

After serving 21 months of his sentence, Powers was released from Vladimir Prison on Feb. 10, 1962. He was exchanged for a Soviet spy, Col. Rudolf Abel, who had been arrested in New York by the FBI in 1957.

The arrangement for the first Cold War prisoner exchange was orchestrated by Powers’ father and Abel’s American attorney, James Donovan.

Memorabilia of Powers capture, imprisonment and release is documented in the “Cold War Crisis: The U-2 Incident” exhibition with a Western Union telegram from Premier Nikita Khrushchev to the Powers family, a Latvian style rug made by Powers while in prison, a Soviet-designed desk set, plaque and debris from the captured U-2, and awards presented posthumously honoring Powers on the 40th anniversary of the U-2 incident.

On Aug. 1, 1977, Powers was killed when his helicopter ran out of fuel and crashed on a baseball field in Encino, Calif. The 47-year-old pilot was buried at Arlington National Cemetery on Aug. 6, 1977.

Visit www.amse.org for more about the American Museum of Science and Energy.