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Posthumous Silver Star for U-2 pilot shot down by Soviets


When the Soviet Union shot down Francis Gary Powers’ U-2 spy plane in 1960, the incident escalated Cold War tensions. But the details of Powers’ two-year-long ordeal in a Soviet prison didn’t emerge until more than 30 years later, when the CIA began declassifying documents about the spy plane program. Now Powers, who died in an airplane crash in 1977, will receive the military’s third-highest honor, the Silver Star, for his flying and for refusing to divulge classified information to Soviet interrogators. Powers, once an Air Force captain, had to give up his rank when he chose to fly the U-2 for the CIA. But his particular mission was a joint one between the CIA and the Air Force, making him eligible for the military commendation. Powers’ son, Gary Powers Jr., has been lobbying for the award, especially as declassified documents provided a more complete picture of the mission. The U.S. continues to use a fleet of 33 U-2 spy planes in missions today; the military recently shelved plans to replace the U-2 fleet with unmanned drones, citing the drones’ higher cost.