Interviews:

Bootman,
Doris

Brown,
Harold

Denchy,
Tom

Dougherty,
Russell E.

Hershey,
Ray

Kaufmann,
William

Lee,
William

McKone,
John

Mcnamara,
Robert

Pugnale,
Ovidio

Sonnenfeldt,
Helmut

Williams,
Joe



     
   


INTERVIEW WITH COLONEL JOHN McKONE - 30.8.1996

Continue

INT: Didn't you feel that there was a sense of incredible injustice? I mean, here we are talking about a Cold War, you were effectively a prisoner of a Hot War.

JM: Exactly. Yes.

INT: Could you tell me how you felt about that?

JM: Well... course you have to understand that we were members of the military at that particular time in our history. We had not received any extra pay for these missions. once in a while, something unique would happen. the year before, for example, I was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross as a navigator in peacetime. so we thought we were pretty hot shot, we were pretty good people. in fact I felt like I was the best, in fact, our crew, interestingly enough, was the number one crew in the Wing, according to the SAC rating system that they had at the time and they rated all the crews on a numbered system and you got so many points for this and that and so forth. But we were the number one crew in the Wing and I didn't know it, but at that time, on the first of July 1960, I had been spot promoted to the next higher rank, I was a captain, not a first lieutenant. But so there were some of those kinds of rewards that one received for this. But other than that, this idea of being shot at and then possibly being killed, as my friends were on that airplane, again we knew that this was the sacrifice that we were making again to try to keep the West free, because you again have to remember back in that time in history, the Soviets had a tremendous, tremendous amount of conventional warfare, that was aimed right at Western Europe. And that they could unleash this tremendous war machine that they had and about the only thing that we had on our side to counter that at that particular time in history was the Strategic Air Command. At that time, we had some two thousand B-47s, we had eight hundred B-52s, were bringing on some B-58s into the inventory. we had Titan missiles at that time, we had the Minuteman ballistic missile just coming on line at that time, we were going to get a thousand of them. we had Atlas strategic missiles at that time, in the inventory, but that command at that particular time was holding this Russian bear at bay and we knew that and we felt very strongly about that. And we were told this, of course, in our different crew meetings that we had and we felt very strongly about what we were doing, it was very, very important to the security, of not just the United States, but the entire Western world and we knew what had happened in Eastern Europe, the fact that the Russian bear had taken over that and all those countries had fallen underneath his spell and they became Communist dictatorships. So again, we didn't want that to happen to Western Europe nor to our own country. So again we had a very high feeling of dedication to what we were doing and were willing, I think, to make that particular sacrifice. And I remembered that the Russians, when I was in the interrogations with them, they asked me at one particular juncture, do you regret what you have done? And I recall at that particular point, one of our national patriots, back in the revolutionary war, Nathan Hill, who was caught as a British, as an American spy, and before he was hung, asked if he had any regrets for what he had done and he said, I regret only that I have but one life to give for my country. And I remembered that very, very well when I went through this particular ordeal and I thought to myself, if I ever live through this and I have to go back to the United States, I'm going to be able to look at fellow Americans in the eye and say, I did the best I could and that if it's required, and they shoot me while I'm still here, I'm still going to die as a patriot and I will not turn tail on the United States and tell these Russians that I regret what I did and I'm sorry for all this and so and so forth. I wasn't and I told them that and they didn't like it. But I meant it and I said that I was sent here on official orders to do a particular job for our government. I said, you can call it spying, that's what we were charg... we had two legal sized sheets of paper that we were charged at, brought against us by the Proc

INT: Did they...

INT: Just before we go back, can you tell me some of the things that happened whilst you were flying the intelligence mission?

JM: Some of the things that happened? We have all kinds of peculiar things that would happen when our friends, as we called 'em, would come up and fly in formation with us. I remember once one of our crews had a copy of the Playboy magazine and took the centerfold out and these fighters, of course, were always very close to us, and he would show the centerfold you know to the Russian fighter pilots and this guy would go like this, you know, and then he'd show it to the other guy, you know, and then they'd wave and off they'd go, you know. And that was one of the peculiar things about our shoot down, was that our pilots only saw that one fighter. Now they always came up in at least two and usually four, because being that close to Norway, somebody could defect and every once in a while a Soviet fighter pilot would defect. So they always sent 'em up in groups of two or four. So Bruce Omsted always felt that the guy that was firing and shot us down, was the lead man and then there was the old head-off back some place watching all this going on and we did return the fire from the fighter and I remember hearing our guns going off, I could feel the vibration in the airplane when our canon went off to shoot at 'em. But he was so close, that we couldn't see him on the radar, so we had to fire visually, up and down and horizontally, it was very fast. It only took one of those canon shells to hit that fighter and it would take care of him. It's possible we shot the fighter down. So it is very, very possible they lost that airplane and the guy that reportedly shot us down, was the guy sitting back watching all this going on.

INT: Did you ever meet the guy?

JM: Yes, I did, mmm. I met him in October in a joint interrogation with...

INTERRUPTION

JM: I met the pilot that reportedly shot us down in October of nineteen hundred and sixty. this was in a joint interrogation with the military Procurator General of the Soviet Union, who was a major general in rank. And at that particular time, there was a lot of controversy about where our airplane was located vis vis the Soviet border? The fighter pilot evidently had given information to the extent that we had crossed the Soviet sea-air border. And at that particular time, he could see that we had crossed the Soviet sea-air border visually and therefore he took it upon himself to shoot us down. That was his testimony in front of the major general. And I said to him, I said, excuse me captain, and I recall his name, Captain Plikiov I believe was his name. I said, captain, did you have any orders to shoot us down? And he says, I don't understand the question. And the general said, I understand the question and he says, did you have any orders to shoot the airplane down? And the captain became very uneasy at that particular time and he says, well, no, I didn't, I took it on my own initiative, because I could see that they had crossed the Soviet sea-air border, and that was the end of the interrogation. It stopped very quickly and we dispersed.

INT: Do you think that the Russians really thought America as the aggressors in the Cold War?

JM: I think that they had almost a phobic feeling about this, yes, because I think historically - and I'm a bit of a Russian historian myself, I took Russian history courses in college, I read up on quite a bit in my spare time, and I think that they have a very deep sense of being very defensive about their country and foreigners are viewed, in Russia today, I'm sure, with great suspicion. They're here to spy on us, why are they here, type of thing. And I think this is deeply inlaid in the Russian mind, because as we can study history, the Mongols and all the other people that came in that raped and pillaged Russia, before the time of the Communists, again did terrible things to the Russian people and the babushkas or grandmothers over there would tell stories about these Mongol hoards that were coming even to the babies and so they have this fear, I think, of foreigner or have a great protective feeling about Mother Russia. And so yes, I that they had... their defenses were certainly up and they spent billions of dollars or rubles to protect their country by building this tremendous fighter force and air defense force, missiles and so forth to defend their country.