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Bringing the Cold War To Life

Relatives of Cold War era leaders to meet at South County on Oct. 14.

Fifty years ago, Nikita Khrushchev and Dwight Eisenhower were in a chess match the entire world watched with bated breath.

On Saturday, Oct. 14, Sergi Khrushchev and David Eisenhower will meet and discuss how their father and grandfather helped change the world.

In the first event of its kind sponsored by the Cold War Museum, Francis Gary Powers Jr. has brought together two iconic names to discuss the Hungarian and Polish uprising of 1956, one of the early high-profile battles of the Cold War era, during a day-long Cold War Conference at South County Secondary School.

"This is a once in a lifetime op to hear first hand accounts of 1956 uprisings in Poland and Hungary," said Powers, whose father was a U2 pilot shot down over the former Soviet Union in 1960 and held prisoner for two years.

"The panelist we've assembled are experts in their fields. The firsthand accounts you'll get from Khrushchev's son and Eisenhower's grandson are interesting and reflective of life in Cold War era," Powers said.

OVER THE PAST seven or eight years, Powers said he's been working with the Polish and Hungarian Embassies to prove that the Cold War Museum will represent all nations involved in the conflict, not just the U.S.

"Often people think of Gary Powers and the U2 incident, but Cold War was much bigger than just my dad," he said. "I want to honor and recognize other veterans and preserve other aspects of Cold War era."

Powers has been working with an array of sponsors and organizations for the past 14 months, ranging from the Polish and Hungarian Embassies to the South County Secondary School, Northern Virginia Community College and the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority to bring together a series of discussions about how the Polish and Hungarian uprising played into Cold War power struggles.

Although Powers and the Cold War Museum he is proposing to build at a former Nike missile site in Lorton have been involved in other similar conferences, this is the first one sponsored and hosted by the Cold War Museum on its own, Powers said.

"We want to organize and coordinate world class events because that's the type of display they want at the Nike base site when we have the museum," Power said.

In addition to the panel discussions, students from South County Secondary School will be talking with Khrushchev, Eisenhower and other panelists to begin work on an oral history project, funded by a grant from EnviroSolutions, owner of the Lorton Landfill.

"Partnerships should allow a school to fill gaps in curriculum in a way otherwise not available at a school," said South County principal Dale Rumberger. "This is as good as it gets for our students."

Powers said without the students' help, he wouldn't be able to collect the stories as quickly.

"So far, they've helped with the Web page, registration and organizing the logistics of events of day," he said. "I couldn't have pulled it off without the help of South County students."

Conrad Mehan, a spokesman for EnviroSolutions, said the funding donated to the Cold War Conference was another way to get involved in Lorton.

"We're trying to encourage everyone to know the roots of the area better and Lorton was a big part of the Cold War because of the Nike site," Mehan said.

Funding the oral history project seemed a great way to get involved, Mehan said, by allowing students to hear, first-hand, stories from those who lived it.

"I'm an avid lay student of American history myself and that particular part of history was very important," Mehan said. "The fact that there will be people who lived during it and were part of that era, it'll just be incredible."

Rumberger admitted that many of his students may not be familiar with the Cold War period, but those who have some background in it are "very excited" for the conference.

"You may have to be a history buff or someone interested in international relations to get into it, but it's a good way to learn about the 50th anniversary of the Hungarian uprising," he said.

Securing Sergi Khrushchev for the conference was easy: he's a member of the Cold War Museum's advisory panel, Powers said. To get David Eisenhower, he had to place a call to another advisory panel member, U.S. Rep. Tom Davis (R-11).

"Tom and David were roommates in college," Powers said. "It's a good thing it's a small world."

NOW A PROFESSOR at Amherst College, their alma matter, Davis said Eisenhower has written several books about his grandfather's role in the Cold War.

"That was Eisenhower era, that's what dominated the landscape." Davis said. "Everything revolved around the Cold War back then. The globalization system we have in place now is what replaced the Cold War, from an economic standpoint. "

Davis said Eisenhower was happy for the opportunity to discuss the uprising at the conference.

"We have to remember the rhetoric of the times ... we need to celebrate that through the museum," he said.

Although he will not be able to attend the event, Supervisor Gerry Hyland (D-Mount Vernon) said he's impressed with the panelists Powers has brought together.

"For the first team, this is a group of seriously heavy hitters," Hyland said. "Gary has been able to parlay a tremendous program. To extend into the future what this could mean, you have an event of significance that could bring in hundreds and hundreds of people."

When the museum is finalized and built, Hyland said the opportunity will exist for history buffs to spend a day or two visiting Mount Vernon, the Woodlawn Plantation, Gunston Hall and the Cold War Museum, soaking up the history of southern Fairfax County.

"This is going to become a destination area," he said.

As the days tick by before the conference, Powers said the finishing touches are being made to ensure the event will be successful and informative.

"We may have a 1954 Soviet tank at the entrance of the school, the kind that would've been used during the crisis we'll be talking about all day," Powers said.

Looking to the future, Powers has plans in place for conferences for the next six years, each highlighting the 50th anniversary of significant Cold War events.

"Next year will be the 50th anniversary of Sputnik ... in 2009, it'll be about Cuba and [Fidel] Castro," Powers said. In subsequent years, other topics will include the Taiwanese crisis of 1958, the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

In 2010, the conference will have a topic near and dear to Powers' heart — his father's mission in the Soviet Union.