Frequently Asked Question #5
How did the idea for the book originate?
The idea for the book evolved from a chance visit to the National Cryptologic Museum at the National Security Agency, Fort Meade, Maryland in August 1995. While Dr. David Hatch, the NSA historian, was providing a guided tour of the museum to Larry Tart and others, Dr. Hatch discussed a memorial display honoring the Francis Gary Powers U-2 shootdown incident on May 1, 1960. As Dr. Hatch described how Soviet SAM missiles brought down the U-2 deep within Russian territory, the mythical "light bulb"
lit up in Larry Tart's head. He sensed the
opportunity to honor seventeen U.S. airmen who had perished aboard a C-130 reconnaissance aircraft that inadvertently violated Soviet airspace and was shot down over Armenia in September 1958. (Larry had served in the same squadron as the C-130's eleven-man reconnaissance crew; the other six crewmen were the flight crew.)
While flying recon missions with the same squadron a decade after the shootdown, Larry often dedicated missions to the 17 lost crewmembers. A plaque hung on a wall in his squadron's briefing room and during pre-mission briefings at 4:00 a.m., Larry would point at the plaque and remind his recon crew of the importance of vigilance lest a similar fate happen to today's mission. Many times, he concluded the pre-mission briefing with, "Let's devote today's mission to our seventeen lost brothers," and point to the plaque on the wall.
Now in 1995, Larry saw a possible way to honor that crew--create a memorial display in the National Cryptologic Museum.
Returning home, Larry wrote to Dr. Hatch, offering to assist the cryptologic museum with the creation of a memorial display honoring that "C-130 crew." Dr. Hatch responded with a thank you letter, "but the Museum does not at this time have any plans for a display about airborne reconnaissance."
Refusing "no" as an answer, Larry began research on the shootdown, locating many former recon flyers with personal knowledge and items associated with the shootdown. Collecting memorabilia and historic documents, he created a briefing on the incident and sent copies of the briefing to a few generals, seeking their support for a memorial.
A copy of the briefing found its way into the in-basket of Lt. General Kenneth A. Minihan, Director of the National Security Agency. Subsequently General Minihan announced at a staff meeting that he desired to create a memorial honoring the crew of C-130 60528 that had been shot down over Armenia in 1958.
Everyone, Dr. Hatch included, responded, "Yes Sir, good idea." "We will work with the curator and create an appropriate memorial display in the cryptologic museum." The general interrupted with words to the effect, "I'm not sure you understand what I have in mind, I envision a memorial consisting of a refurbished C-130 plane located here in an NSA parking lot." Everyone concurred, but left the meeting mumbling to themselves, "Where the hell does the general think we can find a C-130 for a memorial?"
Amazing! Larry Tart would gladly have settled for a memorial display in the museum. He located a surplus C-130, and hundreds of volunteers gave thousands of free hours to refurbish the plane and bring it to Maryland. Restored in 60528's original colors, the C-130 became the Aerial Reconnaissance Memorial in the new National Vigilance Park at Fort Meade, MD on September 2, 1997--39 years after the shootdown. In addition, three airborne reconnaissance memorial displays were dedicated next door in the cryptologic museum.
Through networking, Larry Tart located family members for most of the lost crew and more than 200 former Air Force "Silent Warriors" who had flown communications intelligence reconnaissance missions during the Cold War. Many of the Silent Warriors were personal friends of the seventeen men lost in the shootdown; among the located was Robert Keefe.
Finding common interests--Larry and Bob bonded immediately at the memorial dedication and agreed to write The Price of Vigilance in memory of the lost crew and their families.