Tag Archives: Cold War

Francis Gary Powers

Francis Gary Powers

May 1, 1960
Francis Gary Powers
U-2 spy plane pilot Francis Gary Powers sits in the witness chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington, D.C. on March 6, 1962. This was his first public appearance since his release by the Russians on February. 10, 1962. He is holding a U-2 model plane. (AP Photo)


Francis Gary Powers

Government dodging

I think I remember something about Francis Gary Powers at the time, but I don’t know when I first heard of him. Not on May 1, 1960 when I was probably outside playing after Sunday dinner and trying not to think about Monday and sitting in Miss Liston’s 4th grade class. Did I have homework that weekend? Had I done it?

Francis Gary Powers had taken off from Afghanistan that day in his U2 jet intending to fly over the Soviet Union, take pictures of likely nuclear missile installations, and land in Norway. Flying at 70,000 feet, military experts said he was beyond the reach of Soviet missiles.

In 1955, President Dwight Eisenhower had proposed an “open skies” plan, in which each country would be permitted to make overflights of the other to conduct mutual aerial inspections of nuclear facilities and launchpads. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev refused the proposal.

The US’s U2 spy plane program was a secret program aimed at bypassing that refusal. Flying over a country without permission could be considered an act of war. The program began in 1956.

The Soviets did track some flights, but could not prove that the US was conducting them. The Soviets remained silent because announcing their knowledge of the flights would also reveal their inability to shoot them down.

Until May 1, 1960.

Francis Gary Powers

U2 shot down

The flight had been normal until explosions suddenly broke off a U2 wing and shut down its controls. To use the automatic bailout system with the plane in freefall would have severed his legs. He tried to bail out manually and was nearly sucked out of the plane when he removed its canopy. He also realized that he couldn’t reach the plane’s self-destruct button.

When the US government found out about the situation, it assumed that the plane was destroyed and Powers killed. The government released a story that it was not a spy but a weather plane that had gone off course. A “NASA” painted model was used for exhibit. Eisenhower confirmed the story.

Until the Soviets released pictures of the plane, mostly intact, and Powers, alive. A planned summit between Eisenhower and Khrushchev went south. The Soviets tried Powers on August 17 and found him guilty of espionage two days later. The court sentenced Power to 10 years in prison. 

Francis Gary Powers

James B Donovan

            Three months later, the US elected John F Kennedy president and Powers became his problem. On February 10, 1962 James B Donovan completed his successful negotiation for the exchange of Powers, along with American student Frederic Pryor, for Rudolf Abel.

Ironically, Donovan had defended Abel five years earlier in American courts and though losing the case, was able to defeat the government’s request for the death penalty.

The exchange took place on the famous Glienicke bridge in Berlin – the “bridge” referred to in the title of the 2015 film Bridge of Spies.

Francis Gary Powers
The Glienicke bridge just after the Powers swap on 10 February 1962
Francis Gary Powers

Back Home

Back from the USSR, Powers underwent the questioning scrutiny of the American media. Why had he co-operated with the Soviets? Why hadn’t he committed suicide?

A Senate committee hearing in 1962 gave Powers a chance explain.The committee fully exonerated him and awarded $50,000 in back pay to cover the period of his incarceration in Russia. 

He took a job as a pilot for a television news station and died in a helicopter crash on August 1, 1977.

He is buried in the Arlington National Cemetery where his tombstone includes two honors, both awarded posthumously: the Distinguished Flying Cross, and the Prisoner of War medal.

Francis Gary Powers
photo by Edward (Ted) Tyler


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Executive Order 10450

Executive Order 10450

April 27, 1953

Executive Order 10450 

When the Cold War began, irrational fear of anything associated with Communism ruled the day. Clever politicians looking to gain patriotic points simply associated fringe members of society with Communism to disgrace them and sometimes imprison them.

The LGBTQ community was included in this wide-ranging persecution. Historically this period before the Stonewall riots and their marking a new era of activism is known as the Lavender Scare.

Executive Order 10450

          The text of the executive order began with:

          Sec. 8. (a) The investigations conducted pursuant to this order shall be designed to develop information as to whether the employment or retention in employment in the Federal service of the person being investigated is clearly consistent with the interests of the national security. Such information shall relate, but shall not be limited, to the following:

                (1) Depending on the relation of the Government employment to the national security:

                                (i) Any behavior, activities, or associations which tend to show that the individual is not reliable or trustworthy.

                                (ii) Any deliberate misrepresentations, falsifications, or omissions of material facts.

                                (iii) Any criminal, infamous, dishonest, immoral, or notoriously disgraceful conduct, habitual use of intoxicants to excess, drug addiction, sexual perversion(my emphasis)

                                (iv) Any illness, including any mental condition, of a nature which in the opinion of competent medical authority may cause significant defect in the judgment or reliability of the employee, with due regard to the transient or continuing effect of the illness and the medical findings in such case.

                                (v) Any facts which furnish reason to believe that the individual may be subjected to coercion, influence, or pressure which may cause him to act contrary to the best interests of the national security.

                (2) Commission of any act of sabotage, espionage, treason, or sedition, or attempts thereat or preparation therefore, or conspiring with, or aiding or abetting, another to commit or attempt to commit any act of sabotage, espionage, treason, or sedition.


Executive Order 10450
New Yorker, June 17, 1950


At that time, nearly all of society, including medical professionals, considered homosexuality a sexual perversion. In fact, it wasn’t until December 15, 1973 that the American Psychiatric Association removed the designation of homosexuality as a mental illness.  (NIH article)

The American Psychological Association, a different professional group, removed its designation of homosexuality as unhealthy in 1975. (2003 APA article)

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Bay of Pigs Invasion

Bay of Pigs Invasion

April 17, 1961

Brigade  2506

Newly-elected Presidents inherit both the good and bad of their predecessors. Even though a new President must approve their continuance, once underway, plans and policies, carry a bureaucratic momentum.

In April 1960, the Central Intelligence Agency had recruited 1,400 members of the Frente Revolucionario Democratico (FRD), an active group of Cuban exiles who had fled Cuba when Castro took power.

The group formed the Brigade 2506 and on April 17, 1961, more than 1,000 CIA-trained Cuban exiles landed at the Bay of Pigs on the southern coast of Cuba intending to overthrow Fidel Castro’s recently established government.

The plan failed completely and the negative long-term impact is still part of Cuban-American relations.

Bay of Pigs Invasion


17 March 1960: President Eisenhower approved a document at a meeting of the National Security Council (NSC). The stated first objective of the plan (“A Program of Covert Action Against the Castro Regime”) began as follows: Objective: The purpose of the program outlined herein is to bring about the replacement of the Castro regime with one more devoted to the true interests of the Cuban people and more acceptable to the U.S. in such a manner to avoid any appearance of U.S. intervention.(my emphasis)

18 August 1960:  President Eisenhower approved a budget of $13 million for the operation.

By 31 October 1960:  most guerrilla infiltrations and supply drops directed by the CIA into Cuba had failed, and plans to mount an amphibious assault replaced further developments of guerrilla strategies. 

18 November 1960: CIA Director Allen Dulles and CIA Deputy Director for Plans Richard Bissell first briefed President-elect John Kennedy on the plans. Dulles was confident that the CIA was capable of overthrowing the Cuban government.

29 November 1960: President Eisenhower met with the chiefs of the CIA, Defense, State, and Treasury departments to discuss the idea of an invasion. Those present expressed no objections and Eisenhower approved the plans. He hoped to persuade Kennedy of the plan’s merit.

Bay of Pigs Invasion

Pre-Invasion Issues

One of President Kennedy’s main concerns, was that the operation remain covert not just to Castro but disassociated from the United States.

Not surprisingly a number of Castro’s agents were among the Brigade and they shared the intelligence that they collected on the upcoming invasion.

The planned invasion site was the town of Trinidad. It offered a US-friendly population, a good port, and nearby mountains to escape to if necessary.

As the invasion date grew near, Kennedy grew nervous about the site. It was too associated with the United States making it difficult to deny US culpability. He demanded a change.

A month before the invasion, the CIA decided on Bahía de Cochinos (Bay of Pigs). Unfortunately, this was a place Castro knew well and whose population loved Castro.

Bay of Pigs Invasion

Phase One–Air Attacks

The plan had three phases and early in the morning of April 15 six Cuban-piloted B-26 bombers struck two airfields, three military bases, and Antonio Maceo Airport in an attempt to destroy the Cuban air force.

This phase was successful: the attack destroyed most of Castro’s combat aircraft.

Castro raised complaints to the UN. The US denied all.

Bay of Pigs Invasion

Phase Two–Second Air Attacks

April 16 was Phase Two: a second bombing of targets. But the UN attention to the initial attack worried Kennedy and he cancelled Phase Two.

Bay of Pigs Invasion

Phase Three–Land Invasion

April 17. The landing did not go well. Many men lost their equipment because of the rough approach to the shoreline.

From an article at the CIA siteOnce ashore, they were met instantly by Cuban armed forces who outnumbered them. The salvaged and undamaged Cuban planes that had survived the April 15 strikes, the very planes that should have been destroyed that morning had Kennedy not canceled the planned strike, were now flying overhead wreaking mayhem on the Brigade.

The invasion did not go as planned, and the exiles soon found themselves outgunned, outmanned, outnumbered and outplanned by Castro’s troops.

From there things got worse. Rescue attempts went poorly. A few from the Brigade escaped, but Cuban forces captured most of the Brigade.

Bay of Pigs Invasion

JFK Shows Some of his Cards

April 24, 1961: President Kennedy accepted “sole responsibility” for the invasion, but on November 30 he authorized an aggressive covert operations (code name Operation Mongoose) against Fidel Castro in Cuba. Air Force General Edward Lansdale led the operation.

Operation Mongoose was to remove communists from power, including Castro and it aimed “for a revolt which can take place in Cuba by October 1962”.

US policy makers also wanted to see “a new government with which the United States can live in peace”.

April 14, 1962: a Cuban military tribunal convicted 1,179 Bay of Pigs attackers.

Bay of Pigs Invasion

James Donovan

President Kennedy tapped James Donovan to negotiate the release of the prisoners. This the same James Donovan who had just successfully negotiated the release of Gary Powers from the U2 incident on February 10, 1962. 

Donovan made several trips to Cuba and Castro. Their relationship was a good one

Bay of Pigs Invasion

Cuban Missile Crisis

but  the far more historic and nearly apocalyptic Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962 intervened their negotiations.

Bay of Pigs Invasion

Back to Donovan

Due to Donovan’s personality, the negotiations continued following the crisis.

While playing cards with the President of Pfizer Pharaceuticals, Donovan continued to think about what would succeed with Castro and the idea of exchanging the prisoners for much-needed medicine and food  might work.

Bay of Pigs Invasion

It did

On December 21, 1962, Castro and Donovan signed an agreement to exchange the 1,113 prisoners of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion for $53 million in food and medicine and on December 23, Cuba released the participants in the Bay of Pigs.

Bay of Pigs Invasion


Jim Rasenberger summed up the invasion and its aftermath in his well-received book, The Brilliant Disaster:

In the early hours of April 17, 1961, some fourteen hundred men, most of them Cuban exiles, attempted to invade their homeland and overthrow Fidel Castro. The invasion at the Bahia de Cochinos — the Bay of Pigs — quickly unraveled. Three days after landing, the exile force was routed and sent fleeing to the sea or the swamps, where the survivors were soon captured by Castro’s army. Despite the Kennedy administration’s initial insistence that the United States had nothing to do with the invasion, the world immediately understood that the entire operation had been organized and funded by the U.S. government. The invaders had been trained by CIA officers and supplied with American equipment, and the plan had been approved by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the president of the United States. In short, the Bay of Pigs had been a U.S. operation, and its failure — “a perfect failure,” historian Theodore Draper called it — was a distinctly American embarrassment. Bad enough the government had been caught bullying and prevaricating; much worse, the United States had allowed itself to be humiliated by a nation of 7 million inhabitants (compared to the United States’ 180 million) and smaller than the state of Pennsylvania. The greatest American defeat since the War of 1812, one American general called it. Others were less generous. Everyone agreed on this: it was a mistake Americans would never repeat and a lesson they would never forget.

Apparently we did. Several more times. And still are.

Bay of Pigs Invasion


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