© 2011

Beginning this month, we are instituting a new feature - The HALL OF FAME and HALL OF SHAME.

The first inductee into our HALL OF FAME is a former Air Force pilot who was unfairly reviled during his lifetime, but thanks to the efforts of our dear friend, the late Gen. Arch Hamblen, Francis Gary Powers has received proper recognition at last for his faithful service to our country.

Powers, the U-2 spy pilot shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960, deserved far better than the scorn he got after his capture by the Russians. Few people realize that the "suicide needle" he was supposed to take if in danger of falling into enemy hands was destroyed when a rocket hit his aircraft. He had to bail out and was put on exhibit in a "show trial" in Moscow. We feel our government and the media unfairly portrayed Powers as some sort of "traitor" or coward. He was neither. He was a genuine American hero.

We'll let the words of the late Gen. Arch Hamblen, shared with us, tell the true story.


"One of my more interesting retirement activities involved the reburial of U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers. Some background is necessary.

"In 1960 two weeks before the Eisenhower-Khrushchev summit meeting in Paris, the CIA's Gary Powers (the best pilot they had) took off on a 3,000-mile spy trip across the Soviet Union. The U-2 he was flying was the latest and best of airplanes we had for this purpose.

"President Eisenhower had made promises - promotion to the rank of captain and a Distinguished Flying Cross. Powers carried with him cyanide, in a pen, which he was supposed to take in case he was shot down on the mission. The U-2 was built to fly higher - 65,000 to 70,000 feet - than any Soviet missile could reach. But his plane was hit and he parachuted out of the stricken aircraft. He could not reach the cyanide instrument - anyway, it was destroyed by the impact of the missile. The spy pilot was captured and put in prison.


The U.S. State Dept. knew he had been hit. At the Paris meeting, Mr. Khrushchev accused Eisenhower of spying and the President denied it implicitly. Then Khrushchev said he had parts of the plane, plus the pilot. Two days before the Summit, Khrushchev demanded an apology from Eisenhower but did not get it. So he stormed out of the meeting. The charge was countered by United Nations Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. who showed evidence the Russians had bugged the U,.S. Embassy in Moscow.

In August 1960 Powers was subjected to a Soviet "show trial." Through months of interrogation, Powers withheld much vital information from the Russians. His courtroom apology for flying into Soviet territory would haunt him for the rest of his life. It was a month later that Khrushchev hammered his shoe on the table and denounced Eisenhower at the United Nations. the Kennedy administration in 1962 exchanged Soviet spy Rudolph Abel for Gary Powers.

Powers was kicked out of the Air Force, not promoted nor given the award he was promised. Eisenhower clearly blamed Powers. The CIA arranged for Lockheed to hire the spy pilot but he was fired soon after and unemployed for years. Powers finally obtained a job as a traffic reporter for a Los Angeles TV station. In 1977, in a rainstorm, his helicopter crashed and he as killed. Because Eisenhower had not wanted Powers to ever be buried at Arlington National Cemetery, the tragic flyer was dumped into an unmarked grave in California.


A couple of years later, General of the Army Omar Bradley learned of the disgraceful burial of Gary Powers. He felt Powers had been terribly treated. He ordered that the remains be removed from Los Angeles and sent to Arlington Cemetery and reburied, Bradley's longtime civilian aide, Charles Honeycutt, and I were put in charge of that project and I received the body. Members of the Powers family were present for the reburial, as were a number of CIA personnel. Years later, Sue Powers, Gary's wife, contacted Honeycutt through a highly-placed friend.

"She requested assistance in getting the correct rank of captain on her late husband's tombstone. She also wanted him posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross decoration. Mrs. Powers had no written proof of her husband being promoted to captain or of the promise of the decoration. But Honeycutt got on the job and finally got documentation of the promises had been made. I presented that proof to the superintendent of Arlington Cemetery. Not only did they correct his rank, the DFC was also engraved on his tombstone."

[EDITOR'S NOTE: We are proud to be able to set the record straight about the late Capt. Powers and urge our many readers to contact us with suggestions for further inductees into the HALL OF FAME. Thank you.]