Francis Gary Powers Gets His Silver Star

Lloyd Billingsley is the author of Exceptional Depravity, a new crime book, and Hollywood Party: Stalinist Adventures in the American Movie Industry. He has written for City Journal California, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal and many other publications.


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In 2000, after some details of his 1960 mission had been declassified, the U.S. government awarded Powers the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Department of Defense Prisoner of War Medal, and National Defense Service Medal. Now he has the Silver Star, the military’s third-highest award, but the criticism once thrown his way should now be replaced with respect, for good reason.

Asked what he thought of the Cold War, Ronald Reagan said, “We win, they lose.” We did win, not a shooting war but a conflict of covert operations, spycraft, secret reconnaissance and such. That depended on people like Francis Gary Powers, willing to fly unarmed over hostile territory, endure brutal interrogation, and spend years in a Soviet prison.

The West also out-produced the Soviet Union, another key to victory. The U-2 remains in service today, outlasting the SR-71 “Blackbird” and still accomplishing tasks surveillance satellites, for all their sophistication, cannot manage. The U-2 served in Vietnam, in Iraq, and more recently helped enforce the no-fly zone over Libya. Not bad for an airplane first built in the 1950s.

As George Will has noted, in wartime you want to have the best soldiers and the best equipment. Fight with the second-best and you have two choices: bluff or fold. The Cold War is over but the United States and its allies face adversaries such as North Korea, a Stalinist holdout, and Iran, a militant theocracy now striving to gain nuclear weapons.

The leaders of North Korea and Iran do not disclose their plans. The United States and its allies have to find those out for themselves and act accordingly, as in the days of Francis Gary Powers. In 2012, as in 1960, bluffing and folding are not options.

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  • Stephan

    Ah, yes the Cold War is over — best part of the end was the liberation of the concentration camps and the storys in the media about the liberated political prisoners.

    • btims

      Nah……the best part was the fact that we were actually a strong, sovereign, proud and freedom loving country. Before endless immigration has watered down what it means to be an American, endless "free trade" has outsourced our industries, endless "diversity and multiculturalism" preaching from the govt. and it's PR arm – the MSM.

      I actualy miss the Cold War period. Much better than today.

  • lugnut

    Pretty darn good for a guy from Jenkins Kentucky.

  • Pappadave

    Not sure what Powers did merits a Silver Star. But then, he CERTAINLY merits it more than John Kerry deserved the one he put himself in for.

  • tagalog

    Those interrogation teams that worked Francis Gary Powers over for 107 days, what did they do to him?

    It's a damn disgrace that 52 years had to pass before some bureaucrat whose sole injury in public service is swivel-chair spread would authorize the Silver Star for him. The Silver Star should be for crossing that bridge with an award of the Distinguished Flying Cross for the mission, but what the hell, take what you can get.

  • PDK

    I was born in 1954, I have a few, perhaps hazy memories of FGP, probably from both 60 and 62, when his name and story would have been, for a brief time, front page news. Curious it is, the feelings from that time period, elicited by that story, that after all this time still reside in memory and are called forth from revisiting the story.
    GFP was a bonifide American hero, who much like returning Vietnam vets, was denied his just due as a hero and perhaps worse recieve scorn instead.
    I for one doff my hat for and to Gary, a true American hero. Glad he and his family finally got their due. RIP Francis Gary Powers. Thank you.

  • Nessus

    You mean to tell me that the Armed Forces today actually remembers FGP? And they are not too busy "celebrating" homosexuals and cross-dressers in uniform?

  • Brooks

    I met Gary Powers when his nephew and I were visiting his Mother.
    My friends grandmother..
    Mr. Powers was a gentle and kind man.

  • BLJ

    Powers was a hero. He also showed great courage against his commie captors. I would love to see any of his critics fly the same mission.