Today in history: A president lies

And later admits it

Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev
(Image credit: (Bettmann/CORBIS))

May 5, 1960: President Eisenhower denied that a U.S. spy plane was shot down over the Soviet Union. Eisenhower was lying. The Soviets produced the U.S. pilot, Francis Gary Powers. Eisenhower admitted lying about the incident. At a later Paris peace conference with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, Eisenhower refused to apologize. Khrushchev stormed out of the meeting and the Cold War got colder.

Francis Gary Powers — the U-2 spy pilot shot down by the Soviets — was held until 1962, when he was traded for Soviet spy Rudolf Abel. Powers later became a traffic reporter for KNBC-TV in Los Angeles; he died in a 1977 helicopter crash. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

May 5, 1962: President Kennedy congratulated the first American in space — Alan Shepard — after his 15-minute mission aboard his Freedom 7 capsule. The capsule, powered by a Redstone missile, propelled Shepard to an altitude of 116 miles. During his 15-minute mission (Shepard did not go into orbit), he was able to see the curvature of the Earth, and described a view never seen by any American before. On May 8, Shepard traveled to the White House to receive a NASA Distinguished Service Medal from President John F. Kennedy. Three weeks later, JFK would announce to a joint session of Congress the goal of sending an American safely to the Moon by the end of the decade.

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May 5, 1985: President Reagan angered Jewish leaders and Holocaust survivors by visiting a German cemetery — Bitburg — where Hitler's SS troops were buried. Before going to Bitburg, Reagan also visited the site of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, in which victims of Nazi persecution, mostly Jews, were exterminated. At Bergen-Belsen, Reagan stood by a marker identifying a mass grave of 50,000 bodies and said solemnly, "Here they lie. Never to hope. Never to pray. Never to love. Never to heal. Never to laugh. Never to cry."

Quote of the Day

"I never did give anybody hell. I just told the truth and they thought it was hell." -Harry Truman

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