August 2, 2002
Gary Powers, president of the Vienna-Tysons Regional Chamber of Commerce, traveled to Sioux Falls, S.D. at the end of June to receive an award naming him one of the United States Junior Chamber of Commerce’s Ten Outstanding Young Americans of 2002.
Powers was presented the award for his work to found the Cold War Museum. The museum, founded in 1996, consists of over $2 million in artifacts. Powers has collected numerous items, from pins and patches to a SAM missile to a Stasi Prison door.
Powers’ father, also named Gary, was piloting the spy plane shot down over the Soviet Union in the U2 incident of May 1, 1960. Powers has displayed a mobile U2 exhibit around the world, and is trying to secure a permanent museum location at the former Nike Missile Base in Lorton. After it closed down, the missile base was annexed by the Lorton Prison. Now that the prison has closed down, though, Virginia U.S. Rep. Tom Davis has been interested in installing the museum at the former missile base. In March, Virginia allocated $28,000 to help develop site plans. Powers is trying to raise additional money for the building, which he estimates will cost at least $10 million.
"We’re going after grants," Powers said. "But in order to get them we need a building. And to get the building we need grants. It’s a catch-22."
WHEN POWERS’ FATHER was shot down in the U2 spy plane, it was the proof that the United States had been a spying on the Soviet Union. President Dwight Eisenhower originally denied that the plane was a spy plane.
"Eisenhower and his whole administration were embarrassed," Powers said. "The president was caught in a lie."
After being captured, Powers father was imprisoned and interrogated. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, but served for 21 months, the first three spent in solitary confinement. He was exchanged for a KGB agent that had been caught by the United States.
"The Soviet spy came home a hero," Powers said. "But with my father, the public didn’t know what to think."
After coming home, Powers’ father made a living flying weather helicopters. But he crashed, and died when Powers was 12.
"I didn’t know it was not usual for your father to be on TV all the time," Powers said.
He remembers his father’s funeral, when the press followed him and his family around Arlington National Cemetery. Powers said he became "very introverted" after his father’s death. He would introduce himself as "Gary" instead of as "Gary Powers."
"I felt like everybody knew him but me," Powers said.
IT WASN’T UNTIL COLLEGE when Powers started researching the U2 incident, in an effort to learn more about his father. His research snowballed and, eventually, he became an expert on the Cold War. In 1996 information was released about 38 planes shot down over the Soviet Union. These planes were originally reported to have crashed over international waters, but now it is known that there are 138 crew members who were never accounted for.
"They could have died in the crash," Powers said. "But there are rumors the Soviets picked some of them up and took them to the Gulag [labor camps] for interrogation. They might have died there, or they could still be there today."
Other 2002 winners of the Junior Chamber award include Mark Brunell, quarterback of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Olympic Gold Medal wrestler Rulon Gardner.
Powers recently became a father. His wife, Jennifer Powers, had their first child, Francis Gary Powers III, on July 2 at 12:33 a.m. He weighed eight pounds, seven ounces and measured 22 inches.
For more information or to help fund the museum, which is a 501-c3 charity, visit www.coldwar.org or call 703-273-2381.