Gary Powers released from Soviet prision

February 10, 1962 – Pilot and CIA Operative Gary Powers is returned to the United States in a prisoner exchange with the Soviet Union.

Powers, piloting the secretive U2 spy plane, was shot down by Soviet missiles on May 1, 1960.  The US first reports a “weather plane” had been reported missing only to be embarrassed when they learn that not only had the pilot survived and was captured, but the aircraft had been recovered largely intact.  It is learned that the US had been conducting spying missions since 1956 and the Soviets knew about them but lacked the technology to stop them.

Furthermore, Powers had in his procession not only a survival kit, but also 7500 Soviet rubbles and “jewelry for women.”  The Cold War escalated when it was proven that the US had been spying on the Soviet Union.  Tried and convicted as a spy, Powers was sentenced to 10 years in prison.  Later Powers, along with an American student Fredric Pryor, is swapped for Soviet Spy KGB Colonel Vilyan Fisher.  He worked for Lockheed, manufacturer of the U2, as a test pilot from 1963 until 1970.  In 1970, he co-wrote a book called Operation Overflight: A Memoir of the U-2 Incident. It is rumored that this led to his termination from Lockheed due to negative publicity for the CIA from the book.  He became a helicopter pilot for Los Angeles TV stations and died in 1977 at age 47 covering fires in Santa Barbara when his helicopter ran out of fuel.  Parts of the US Spy Plane remain on display at a Moscow museum.  Throughout the 60s and 70s, the name Gary Powers was well-recognized.  His capture by the Soviets was a major embarrassment to the US as undisputable proof that we too were spying.  Eventually other battles in the Cold War overshadowed his name and today is rarely mentioned outside history class.

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Filed under 1960s, International, Politics, USSR

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