Monday, July 8, 2019

Francis Gary Powers and the campaign to build him a Memorial

I wrote this chapter in 2005 as part of a book I wrote about growing up in the San Fernando Valley in the 1970's. Today I put up a website to campaign to get Francis Gary Powers a Memorial at the site of his helicopter crash where he and his cameraman George Spears died. He was a large historical figure of the Cold War and that history should be saved and shared in the community where he worked and lived.

Francis Gary Powers
Across Victory Boulevard, about 4 blocks from the Haynes house was a youth center with a dirt motocross track and beyond that was undeveloped land till you got to the LA River. The LA River cut a large swath, and across from that was Balboa Park, where there were tennis courts and baseball fields and a place called the Velodrome. This was a racing track for bicycles. To get over to the park area you had to walk across a train trestle. This track was never used by trains anymore. We would go there all the time to throw stuff off into the water just for kicks. Walking across the trestle could be scary because there were spaces between the railroad ties and you could see all the way down to the concrete and the water. Cascadden and I made a dummy out of some of his old clothes stuffed with newspaper and threw it off the trestle. We filmed it with 8mm camera for our film “On the Run”. There was a baseball field just at the end of the trestle.
August 1st, 1977 Francis Gary Powers, the famous U2 pilot that got shot down in Russia in 1960 was working for KNBC channel 4 in Burbank covering a fire in Santa Barbara. His helicopter ran out of gas about 2 miles from Van Nuys airport and crashed into a baseball field in Balboa Park, right next to the train trestle where we always walked. I had heard this mentioned on the news the day after it happened. I remember seeing smoke and didn’t know what it was. I had heard his name mentioned in history class and knew that it was important. The day after the crash I ran over there at around sunset with a shoe box to see if they had left any parts of the helicopter behind. Alone, I walked the burned black area of the baseball field, just a few feet beyond first base. I picked up enough pieces to fill my shoe box. Plastic pieces, painted and clear. Electronic parts, fiberglass, honeycomb pieces, insulation. It felt very strange knowing that two people had died there on that spot. The camera man, George Spears as well as Mr. Powers died that day. I went home and taped up that shoe box and wrote a description on it and dated it. I kept that box unopened for over 20 years in storage. After the Internet came into being I tried to find information on Francis Gary Powers. I found the Cold War Museum curated by his son, Gary Powers Jr. I emailed him and told him the whole story. He was interested in having this box. He had never been to the actual site. I overnighted him the box and he was very grateful to have it. I think it gave him some closure.
The crash of Francis Gary Powers’ Bell 206 Jetranger helicopter, with N4TV painted on the tail was apparently caused by a malfunctioning fuel gauge which had been repaired without his knowledge. Powers had 381 flight hours in this type of aircraft. Francis Gary Powers, an Air Force pilot, was flying a U-2 spy plane over the Soviet Union taking pictures of a Soviet missile installation when he was shot down by a Russian missile on May 1, 1960. President Dwight Eisenhower, believing Powers did not survive the crash, denied it was a spy mission until Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev produced Powers alive. Interestingly the aircraft that Powers was piloting, the U2, was built in Burbank at Lockheed’s secret Skunk Works. On the Burbank Airport property.
Sue Powers his wife, moved to Las Vegas permanently in 1994, after the Northridge earthquake destroyed her home. She died in Las Vegas on June 17, 2004, of pulmonary problems. She was 68. Their was a private service for Powers on the following Saturday in Las Vegas. Powers was buried with her husband in Arlington National Cemetery July 13, 2004. Powers had two children Dee and Francis Gary Jr.

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