Russell E.












INT: But speaking as a naive outsider, wasn't there some almost justification, in the sense that from what you said, there were a lot of these flights going on on a daily basis around the Soviet Union. Didn't they have some right to feel that their territory was being invaded?

JM: I don't know about us, whether they really had that right, because on their side, they knew very good and well - and we knew this - that they were flying Bears and Bisons up and down our East Coast and down to Cuba and then back up to Murmansk or wherever they came out of, and then of course Alaska, and they even over-flew the Alaska territories at times, and we'd send our fighters to intercept them and to my knowledge, we never shot one of them down. We'd take pictures of their over-flights and their aircraft, but we never shot any of 'em down. And again in my view, that would have been the gentleman's way to do this. But I think in or particular case, again going back to it, militarily, I don't think they really received that much benefit from shooting us down. In fact, it was very interesting to me. We had several airplanes at Brise Norton and the very next day, one of our crews volunteered to fly the very same route that we flew, the very next day, up in the Berent Sea again, the very same route and they didn't see anybody. Nobody even came up to bother 'em. So again I think, because of the U-2 and the heightened tensions that that caused and the success propaganda-wise the Russians received from that and the embarrassment to our country - and we have to remember another thing. At that time in history, in nineteen hundred and sixty, we were up for Presidential elections and the Republican and Democratic national conventions were both being held in July of 1960. Eisenhower was going out as our President, he couldn't again run for a third term, so we had Nixon running and of course we knew with the kitchen debates the year before that Nixon and Khrushchev didn't like each other, so the Democrats were going to have their convention at that particular time and we really didn't know who the Democratic nominee was. Is it possible that the Russians thought, well maybe if we shoot down an RB, we make a big thing out this and create a lot more turmoil for the United States, that we can influence the Democratic nominee, a more peaceful man towards the Soviet Union, somebody that's not as war-like as Nixon and so on and so forth? I don't know. Those are questions that I can't answer, but again I think it's probably part of the equation that works in this whole thing.

INT: Last couple of questions then. Could you just tell briefly what it was like to be released and what happened when you got back?

JM: Well, the feeling of being released, I can tell you is probably one of the highs of my life. The night before our release - and we had no idea at this particular time what was going to happen, but knew one thing, things were getting a little better. For example, with my food routine, I had a couple of table spoons of creamed peas, that was offered one night and it was deliciou. I savored every one of those little peas. one other time, I received before release a chocolate-covered ice cream bar. Now, I'll never forget that. It's kind of a little gift, you know, type of thing, but the night before release, Mr. Shalopin, who was the head of the KGB and we had several interrogations with this guy and I never really appreciated him much, he was a pretty tough cookie - came into my cell and said, we're going to have some very good news for you very soon. And I said, what do you mean, I'm going to get shot in the morning or go to Siberia? And, course, he laughed and he said, no, he says, we'll just see. Thanks. And he left. So the next morning, about six o'clock I was awakened and taken downstairs and given a shower and I was always escorted by a couple of KGB guards. I always Russians were about five foot high and five foot wide. These guys were about six foot six high and about five feet wide and they had hands for fists and we never had any trouble in our cell block, by the way, because if one of the prisoners would start hollering and yelling and screaming and everything, and that's the only thing you could hear, because you had a solid wooden door, there wasn't bars on the door or anything like this, solid wood, so you're almost in a sound-proof room, but if somebody was screaming or hollering, you'd hear that and they would go in and just beat them half to death with their bare fists. So we never really had any trouble in the cell block from any prisoners. But I was given a shower and then came upstairs and I was given a suit of Russian clothes to wear and came out of my cell block at the same time, for the first time, in two hundred and eight days, I saw Bruce Omsted come out of his cell block. He was in a cell four cells down from me for all those days and neither one of us knew we were that close together, that's how complete our solitary was. We came out into the cell block and then we went to another room outside the cell block, sat down and watched television for the first time together and had a chance to talk, unrestrictively, and then we went through seven checkpoints with a solid steel door, through little Judas holes we called it, went through the door with a Russian officer on either side with a side arm, a telephone and two guards with sub-machine guns and we went through seven of those in getting out to the ballroom of the Lubianka and these wonderful crystal chandeliers and vodka and caviar and everything. He says you're being released for the purposes of peace and friendship for our countries. And Omsted looked at me and I looked at him and I said, I don't believe this, do you? He said, no. And he said there were three conditions to the release. We had had nothing to do with, this was the first we heard of them, evidently agreed to between the Foreign Office and our State Department, that first that this condition would again not set off a propaganda campaign against the USSR in America. In other words as the Korean War and all the brainwashing themes and all of that, here come these two little air force lieutenants, still smartly military, salute every time they meet a Russian military type, didn't condemn their country, didn't condemn their flights, didn't condemn their leaders as they were asked to do, didn't go to trial and they were being released unconditionally now to go back to the United States. And but they didn't want that known in the United States. So we didn't get an award when we came back to the United States, not even a letter of thanks from the US government

INT: Colonel McKone, thank you very much indeed...