On the NSA website, a grainy gun-camera image from one of the MiGs shows the C ablaze; it crashed 28 miles inside the Armenian border, and all 17 crew members were killed. They were given a cover story of a routine mission gone awry. They provided no information about the other 11 crew members. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, a U. They visited the crash site in Sasnashen, Armenia, in Had the others survived the crash, and perhaps been taken prisoners of war?
They asked other witnesses: No one had seen parachutes.
Team members interviewed a General Sozinov who was at the site minutes after the crash. He said the aircraft burned for eight hours; survivors were unlikely. When they visited the site, they found hundreds of skeletal fragments; with these, they were able to identify two other crew members. They concluded the others had died there as well. The remains were brought back to the United States, and on September 2, , the families of Air Force gathered at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia for a burial with full military honors.
The case of Air Force is unusual—not because the U. For the crews of at least 30 other lost reconnaissance airplanes, there has been no recovery, no return, no ceremony. The most famous spying mission flown during the cold war was the high-altitude flight of Francis Gary Powers, whose U-2 was brought down on May 1, , by a Soviet surface-to-air missile. But hundreds of airmen were shot down. Almost all were flying missions to collect information about Soviet air defenses. Ferret flights, as the reconnaissance missions had been nicknamed, dated back to World War II, when converted bombers carrying electronic equipment located enemy radar stations.
In the event of nuclear war with the Soviet Union, the information would be critical to the U. Strategic Air Command bombers, which would have to jam, destroy, or evade radar in order to strike Soviet targets. Flying unarmed and at night, along the Soviet borders or even hundreds of miles inland, the ferret crews did not try to hide from enemy radar; instead, they would get deliberately caught. Then they could listen to the enemy response through radio, radar, and other signals.
The plan was to capture the information, then get out before fighters were scrambled or missiles were launched. Carlos Campbell, an air intelligence officer who flew on reconnaissance flights in the early s, told reporter William E.
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You go numb for about a second. Then you go into a reactive mode and loosen up. Surveillance crews were jammed into cramped compartments, where they huddled over radar screens and electronic monitoring devices. They were told that if they were shot down, they were on their own. Because the ferret missions were top secret, the families knew nothing about the nature of the flights—or what happened when they went wrong. Finally, in , documents about the flights were declassified. A joint U. But airmen are still unaccounted for. Their families are still waiting to find out what happened to them.
Jack Fette was the pilot of a Navy PB4Y-2 Privateer, a maritime patrol bomber converted to a ferret aircraft; his was based in Morocco.
On April 8, , just before Jack was due to go on leave, another Privateer pilot got sick. Jack volunteered to fly in his place. That night, he and the crew were shot down over the Baltic Sea. Charlotte Busch Mitnik has been waiting for her brother Sam since In June , Mitnik was 18 and had just graduated from high school. Her brother Sam was the pilot of an RB, converted from the famous four-engine Superfortress, stationed in Japan.
I knew something tragic had happened to my brother. Mitnik recalls her father frequently writing to senators asking for help, but nothing came of it. And that was the end of the story—for 40 years. A few days later, in a speech to a joint meeting of Congress, Yeltsin said that if any Americans were still in the former Soviet Union, they would be found and returned to their families. A few months earlier, Yeltsin and President George H. Bush had formed the U. Although the trip was not productive, the previously chilly relations seemed to thaw.
So it was about as hopeful a period as I can recall. Toon represented the Americans.
General Dimitrii Volkogonov represented the Russians. The U.
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Connell, who speaks with a quiet intensity, faced a daunting task. He and his team criss-crossed Russia and the former Soviet republics digging into archives. There is Podolsk, which is the central archives of the Russian Ministry of Defense and has everything but the Navy [missions]. There is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs archives. Then you have the Archives of the Russian Federation. Connell and his team interviewed hundreds of witnesses: guards, retired officers, former prison camp inmates, even the pilots who shot down some of the airplanes. In , the commission interviewed Anatoly Gerasimov, one of the Russian pilots who intercepted the Privateer.
He claimed the aircraft exploded mid-air before crashing into the sea. By now, witnesses have aged, adding urgency to the mission.
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The files provided Boylan with detailed information about what the U. Naval Academy ring engraved with the name John Robertson Dunham, class of He was buried at Arlington in August , and a month later, the RB families gathered there to dedicate a stone memorializing the crew. We heard about it when we went to one of the meetings.
That cycle would repeat. The Bronze Star may be awarded for nonflying activities in direct support of combat operations. And the xviii Preface and Acknowledgments Purple Heart is earned for wounds sustained in wartime combat. If I collected the medals of all the men I wrote about, I would hold in my hands every one of these decorations, in many instances awarded more than once.
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Behind these small pieces of metal dangling from colorful ribbons lie the stories of the boys who always wanted to fly. I thank all of the men who so openly and generously shared with me events in their lives. At times, our conversations forced them to reach deep into recesses of the past.
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It was not easy for some to talk to me, but they did, as one flyer to another. They freely shared documentation and personal photographs and allowed me unencumbered access to the precious records of their ever more distant pasts. I offer special recognition to Colonel David M. Taylor, whose experiences as a B pilot over Europe originally inspired me to write this book, and to Colonel Howard S. My thanks also go to Dr.
Ken Hechler, a soldier, statesman, author, and longtime public servant in both the U. I thank my wife, Joan Powers, for her dispassionate and critical review of the manuscript; and Craig Gill, editor in chief of the University Press of Mississippi, for his continuing and enthusiastic support; and Stephen E.
Finally, I would like to note that I made minor editorial changes to the interviews in the interest of readability and clarity, including providing brief explanations of unfamiliar terms and adding other supplementary information. Wolfgang W.
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Samuel Colonel, U. And, militarily speaking, we were in no position to hold our own against the Russians in Germany. They had twenty divisions.