Letters from a Soviet Prison: An interview with Francis Gary Powers, Jr.


Francis Gary Powers, Jr. being interviewed talking about his new book, “Letters from a Soviet Prison”

You could say that Francis Gary Powers, Jr. is very much chained indirectly to Appalachia in the opposite of some of us living here in the mountains.

Living the majority of his life outside the Appalachian Mountains, the son of famed U-2 pilot still, finds a way to get back home to his unofficial roots of Appalachia. But unfortunately this year for Powers, he has made two unexpected trips to Pound to pay respects and honor the memory of his uncle and aunt who both passed away in the month of May.

Now on this last weekend in May, he is in Pound to visit and talk to people about his new book, “Letters from a Soviet Prison”.

Growing up, I became fascinated and obsessed with the story of Powers’ father. I met Francis Gary Jr. many years later when he brought a traveling exhibit of Cold War memorabilia to UVa-Wise and I had a chance to speak to him.  We have stayed in touch off and on but we are not super close but when I heard that he was coming to Pound for Memorial Day weekend to sell limited copies of his book,  I arranged an interview with him for a podcast I co-host with a friend.

Gary and I sat down for our interview outside the famous “Pixie” short order restaurant in downtown Pound. It was there Gary shared information with me that piqued my interest and drew me deeper into the legend of his father.

To hear Gary and go back to read information, fifty-seven years ago, the United States of America was at war with the Soviet Union. But before you say, “No, there wasn’t a war going on then” perhaps you should go back and check your history books.

There was a war going on between the two big kids on the world block and that war was one of political and social ideologies. After the events of May 1, 1960, the world teetered on the brink of that ideological war escalating into an even larger confrontation between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.

If you are not familiar with the “U-2 Incident” involving Francis Gary Powers, then you should acquaint or reacquaint yourself with the events that almost took both countries to the brink of war and forced a heroic, former general now president, Dwight D. Eisenhower to have to come clean on the nature of the Powers’ ill-fated U-2 flight over the Soviet Union during the tense three months following the shootdown. The incident also introduced the world to the fiery outbursts and rhetoric of Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and put rural Southwestern Virginia, Powers and his family, into the international spotlight after his capture.

Gary travels now all over to promote his father’s legacy and to discuss the Cold War on a frequent basis to groups and make presentations discussing his father’s role and the impact of the famed “U-2 Incident”.

With the recent resurgence of interest with the “U-2 Incident” and the Steven Spielberg movie, “Bridge of Spies” starring Tom Hanks, the movie dealt with the arrest and incarceration of Soviet Colonel Rudolf Abel, the shootdown of Powers and the eventual prisoner exchange between Abel and the famed U-2 pilot, who was tried and convicted of espionage.

Powers also has a small part in the movie and can be seen walking out of a hangar beside the actor who portrays his father in the film.

The book is a limited release of 500 copies and co-authored by Douglas E. Campbell with a preface from Professor Sergei Khrushchev, the son of former Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. Orders for “Letters from a Soviet Prison” can be made by contacting Powers at gpowersjr@coldwar.org or by going to Powers’ website at www.garypowers.com.

Other books available from the website include Powers’ father’s own account of the U-2 Incident, entitled, “Operation Overflight: A Memoir of the U-2 Incident” and “Strangers on a Bridge” by James Donovan, the lawyer who helped negotiate the exchange between Abel and Powers.

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