- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 7, 2007

The 63-foot U-2 spy plane suspended from the ceiling of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum is a constant reminder to Francis Gary Powers Jr. of his educational mission.

The son of a historic U-2 pilot shot down over Russia, Mr. Powers has worked for 11 years to keep the history of the era that spawned the reconnaissance plane alive. Pondering the relic, which was used to photograph Russian facilities and one of several planes his father flew, he says its work was instrumental in ending the Cold War.

“There was no missile gap. There was no bomber gap,” Mr. Powers said. “The Soviets were not as far advanced as we thought they were, or they said they were.”

Mr. Powers last week led a “spy tour” of D.C. landmarks and secret drop-off points where double agents handed off intelligence that fueled the Cold War. He has led the tour for years to raise money to open a museum in Lorton devoted to the military and social conflict between the United States and the former Soviet Union.

Mr. Powers and John C. Welch co-founded the museum in 1996 to promote awareness of the decades-long global struggle that almost took the life of Mr. Powers‘ father. In 1960, the Soviets shot down a U-2 plane flown by Air Force pilot Francis Gary Powers Sr. He was held captive for 21 months in prisons near Moscow.

The Cold War Museum has centered around an online chronicle and a mobile exhibit that has traveled cross country, but the museum is headed toward brick-and-mortar status.

Mr. Powers plans to transform the former Nike Missile Base in Lorton, which housed an anti-aircraft missile defense system during the first stages of the Cold War, into a 6,000-square-foot museum that will hold a section of the Berlin Wall, a theater and a library.

“They’ll start small,” said Judy Pedersen, a Fairfax County Park Authority spokeswoman. “We’ll get them in, and then they’ll expand and grow as their finances allow.”

The base is part of a sprawling complex owned by the park authority that was home to the overcrowded D.C. Correctional Facility until 2002.

The nonprofit museum has raised $500,000 over the past three years, including in-kind artifact donations. The new capital campaign started aims to raise $3 million by 2009 and eventually $46 million to support a 120,000-square-foot museum.

“It’s very affordable if you look at it like a million dollars for each year of the Cold War,” Mr. Powers said.

Local awareness of communism has swelled recently, with the unveiling of the Victims of Communism Memorial last month in Northwest and the kickoff of the Cold War Museum’s capital campaign.

But unlike the memorial, Mr. Powers said his museum will document the international conflict from multiple perspectives.

“We’re not trying to say that we won and they lost,” Mr. Powers said. “We’re here to talk about it, reflect upon it and learn from it.”

Mr. Powers and retired Air Force Col. Gail Halvorsen, an advisor to the museum, visited Germany last weekend for the opening ceremony of a partner museum at the Harnekop Atomic Shelter, which was used as a Soviet communications center.

“It’s important to have dialogue and to bring in the two sides of the pancake,” said Col. Halvorsen, who was nicknamed the “candy bomber” for dropping chocolate bars to children during the Berlin Airlift in 1948. Col. Halvorsen hopes the museum will educate younger generations that he said have a “deficit” of knowledge of the Cold War era.

Final museum plans include putting an elevator into one of the missile shafts to enable a tour of the storage area.

Jerry Gordon, president of the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority and museum board member, said the museum will play a key educational role in his county.

“As we get further and further away from [the Cold War], it has less and less reach to the younger generation,” he said.

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