Russell E. Hershey,
INT: Did you understand what was happening in the cockpit? It may sound like a foolish question, but did you realize that you were being attacked by another plane?
JM: Almost immediately I did, because I could hear the canon shells hitting our airplanes and that was a very strange noise and then I could hear the pilots on the intercom being quite excited. I never heard anything out of the other compartment of the airplane, where the electronic warfare officers were stationed. They were stationed in the bomb bay of this B47 that we had and they had a separate compartment completely from ours and they were surrounded by the aft, the center and the forward main fuel tanks. So if they had any fire from the fighter back there, it's possible that they had an immediate explosion and were killed in the airplane itself. But no, I felt like that we immediately had an attack, then I stuck with the airplane until we leveled out at twenty eight thousand feet and then with the second burst of fire, where I saw these canon shells actually bursting holes through my nose section, and I heard everything else going on behind me, and alarm bells and the order to bail out, that's when I decided to leave.
INT: Do you have any idea why the Russians opened fire on you?
JM: To this day, I think that the reason why the Russians opened fire on us on that particular day was not so much a military reason as it was a political reason. That's my own personal opinion. and I base this on the fact that just two months prior to our attack, the U-2 was shot down on first of May. They received a tremendous amount of very favorable publicity throughout the world about this. The United States, on the other hand, in my view had a lot of egg on their face, because Eisenhower, our President, was caught in the lie, he said it was a weather type of aircraft and it was a spy plane, and then of course Powers was picked up and captured by the Russians and because of that favorable publicity, in my view again, I think that the reason we were shot down is that they'd had a successful shoot down of the U-2 and here is a sitting duck, an RB47, flying at thirty thousand feet, four hundred and twenty five miles an hour true air speed, chucks let's go out and shoot one of them down. I think this is borne out a little bit more to the fact that I've seen reports to the effect that on that same day, on the first of July, a RB47 flying out of Yukota, Japan, was again with long-range radars from our side, was warned to come back to base because they saw several Soviet fighters taking off from the Eastern parts of the Soviet Union to intercept them and they were turned around and came back to base and escaped. So I think that on the first of July 1960, they were after an RB47 some place.
INT: What happened to you after, you know, your parachute opened and presumably you went into the sea?
JM: Well, of course, first thing as soon as my chute opened was that I was pretty angry and I was quite upset about the Soviet fighter pilot that shot us down, because I knew where we were. I knew that we were in international waters, they claimed a twelve mile territorial limit, we said three at that time in history, but we were clear out some sixty miles away from an Soviet land mass and I couldn't figure out, I was confused, I couldn't figure out why the Soviet fighter pilot shot us down. I knew that we weren't off course and so I had a number of mean things to say about him and his mother's lineage and a few other things all the way down the sea. I of course, could see, being a land-lubber - I was born and raised in Kansas and I wasn't used to the ocean, not a bit, but I could tell that Arctic water survival was not going to be a duck of soup, because the intelligence officer, before we took off that particular day, told us that with a nylon summer flying suit, T-shirt, shorts and jump boots, which we had on, that was all the clothing we had on, in thirty degree water, we'd probably last eighteen minutes. So as we got closer to the sea, I started preparing to enter it and I opened up my one-man dinghy, it fell down below me, inflated automatically and survival kit along with it, and then I could see the first fellow going into the water. Again, he never moved, went into the water stiff and then the second fellow, he did deploy his survival kit as I did and his one-man dinghy inflated and then I noticed as I got closer to the water, it was kind of white in appearance, and somebody told me later on that with the color of the water and so and so forth, there was about a fifty mile an hour surface wind on the water, with twelve or fifteen foot swells, you really did have a survival situation, trying to sit in a little one-man dinghy and that's exactly what happened. I went into the water. Of course, my anger cooled very quickly when I hit that thirty three degree water, and I came up and fortunately I'm a fairly good swimmer and the Lord was with me. I just reached out and grabbed a hold of the line and worked my way up to my little dinghy and then very gingerly turned my body around, so I wouldn't use the zippers to rip it, and then got into my dinghy and... rear end first, and became a dinghy rider and then I found out very quickly that those big sea swells could actually turn the whole dinghy and you over too if you weren't watching what you were doing and so I had to be very careful about that. Course, I had a number of surprises at that particular juncture. I searched the survival kit for survival flares, which were supposed to have been there, there weren't any. I looked for... in my Mae West life preserver, sea marker dye, shark repellent, again more flares, a flashlight, a whistle, all those items were missing, so naturally after we finally returned home, we corrected those little discrepancies very quickly. I did find a little signal mirror that I knew from survival school, they'd told me that I could use that in broad daylight and you could see it say twenty five miles away. It didn't work, but I can explain that later. But that's the only thing I could find for signaling, other than my little radio. My radio came in two pieces, the battery and the cable and of course, the transmitter/receiver. I had to take the cable and try to screw it on to the battery and to the radio and in the cold that I had, it was very difficult to do that and as soon as the sea water hit that contact, the battery went zzzzz, like , and that was the end of my radio. So I can tell you that allof a sudden you start feeling very much alone. the only time I saw the other survivor riding his dinghy was when both of us were on top of one of these large sea swells at the same time. I tried my best to get over to him, but somebody forgot to put the oars in the dinghy. I tried to find gloves in the survival kit, there
INT: Fascinating. How did they treat you?
INT: Fascinating. How did they treat you?
JM: I think that the people that treated us on the trawler treated us fairly decently. I was looking for all kinds of pretty aggressive behavior, but about half the people on the trawler were women and these were not ordinary women. They had very callused hands, they'd been obviously fishing, there were fish heads over the deck, you could tell it was a trawler, not one of their electronic systems that they have sometimes. But it was a true fishing trawler and these people were very strong women and they took my nylon summer flying suit and just about ripped it off my body and with very little effort. Then they took off all my underwear, so I was standing stark naked on this ship and then they took off my boots and of course inside of my boot I had a survival knife and they found that and they didn't like that very much. It was a weapon and boo, you know, that type of thing. And then, finally, I was hustled down below deck and then they gave me a gift, my first surprise. I had underwear and then I had a Russian air force blue uniform, the pants fit me exactly to the length of the pants, the waist, the size was correct, the length of the arms and the neck and everything fit me perfectly, along with the hat, and just how a fishing trawler would suddenly have something like that aboard again makes you think that there may have been some preparation for this. And for the second survivor, he had the same experience with the clothing that he put on. I was also given some fish soup. I knew it was fish soup, because it had a fish head floating in it, with about that much grease on top of it and I ate a little bit of that and promptly got sick and I had sea-sickness anyway from all that bobbing around in the water and probably swallowed some sea water when I entered it and then they gave me some hot tea, which felt very good, and then they hustled me off to a state room and a couple of these fellows guarded me so I wouldn't get out of the state room. And after about another thirty minutes, the captain of the boat came down and said, we found one more like this, and I said, well, look, there may be four more and I went like that and try and talk pigeon Russian to him and he'd try and speak pigeon English to me and so we conversed that way. And then I remember that we were on that trawler for oh an other six hours, searching back and forth and we did quite a bit of searching back and forth for additional survivors, but they never stopped again, after picking up the other survivor. And then we steamed for about twelve hours after that particular period of time and stopped and then they let us off on the seaward side of the trawler, so we couldn't see what was on the landward side, into a Russian speed boat and that's when we got off together, so I knew that Bruce Omsted, the co-pilot, was a survivor too and we were taken together there on the speed boat and it was heavily guarded with oh half a dozen or so Russian sailors, AK-47s, so that we knew that we were in deep trouble, they were all in uniform and they weren't happy to see us at all. And I tried to talk a little bit to Omsted and found out pretty quickly that he had a pretty severe injury, he kept passing out and he said that his back hurt very badly and later on we found that he had a compression fracture of the twelfth vertebra in his back, which is a common ejection injury. I was very fortunate, I had a few bruises from the opening shock of the parachute, I guess I had a couple of black eyes, which is typical of the opening shot, but other than that, I was very fortunate and I came through pretty much unscathed.
INT: Were you frightened?
JM: I guess most of the time I was too busy to be frightened. I can't say that I was... again without fear. I think that a man would be a fool to say that, but of course the great unknown, am I going to be rescued, am I going to be shot if I'm rescued, what's going to happen to me, because you heard all these stories at that particular time about people just disappearing once the Russians would get you never see you again, even if you were alive. So, you had that fear in the back of your mind, well what's going to happen next? What's going to happen to me? Am I going to be rescued? Yes, I was, but then the next step, what's going to happen then? And the next step was that we were flown into Moscow and separated at that particular point when we got off the airplane in Moscow, taken to a Soviet prison and then kept separated for two hundred and eight straight days. We were in solitary confinement, both of us.
INT: Which prison was that?
JM: the first prison, and I don't recall the name of that prison, but it was kind of a holding prison, we were there several days and then transferred to Lubianka, but we were in the Lubianka the great majority of the time we were there. Upon getting to the prison, all my air force clothing was taken off from me again. I was given no identification or anything. I had a black shirt and black pair of pants to wear, no belt and no tie or anything and like workman clothes, and a pair of shoes with no shoelaces - that way you couldn't hang yourself or that type of thing. And then placed in solitary and then our meals, when we went into solitary confinement, were very, very meager. We had approximately five hundred calories a day to eat, I'd have maybe a couple table spoons of rice in the morning, you'd got to take your table spoon, which was the only utensil we had to eat with, and take all the stickand stones and pieces of glass, aluminum and everything else you founin it, put that in one pile and then you had the rice in the other pile and then you'd have a cup of black coffee and that would be breakfast. And then lunch, you'd have maybe a couple of table spoons of boiled macaroni and then maybe a piece of black bread, no butter, nothing to go on it, jelly or anything. And then maybe a cup of tea and you knew it was tea, because it still had a lot of the leaves in the bottom of it. And then at night, you'd have another cup of coffee and then maybe a bowl of borsch, as they call it, but was just pink water with maybe a leaf of cabbage in it, something like that. And so on that calorie intake, I lost about sixty pounds first two months I was there and Bruce Omsted said he lost, he thought, about seventy pounds and it was a very dramatic time, because we had our first joint interrogation a couple of months later. To point this out how dramatic it was on the weight loss, was that he walked into the interrogation room and I was sitting there with my interrogator and interpreter. He came in with his interrogator and interpreter and I didn't recognize him. He looked at me and he didn't recognize me. And I said, Bruce,... are you Bruce Omsted, because I noticed something familiar about his face and his eyes. And he burst out in tears and ran over to me and gave me a big kiss and he says, yes, thank God, it's John McKone. And so we recognized each other through our voices, not the way we looked. So that's what a couple of months of solitary can do to you in the Lubianka. Course, we lost a lot of sleep too at the same time. I guess being interrogated at four and five and six hours at a stretch, then we'd have an hour break, four and five and six hours at a stretch with an hour break, twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. we finally decided, both of us individually, and I say, we, we were being interrogated separately and of course kept separately and everything, but about the same time we evidently both decided, name, rank, service number, date of birth just wasn't going to hack it and we had to do something different. And so I guess I became one of the most stupid navigators in the world, I could talk about maps and I could talk about a basic radar set and I could talk about how to shoot a star and these types of things, but I didn't know about anything that these other guys were doing and I just did my little job and that seemed to kind of get the monkey off my back. After about three weeks, then, when I deviated from the name, rank, service number, date of birth routine and talked about these basic things - and of course they wanted to know everything about me. They wanted to know my childhood and my parents and my family and all this, they wanted to know all about those kinds of things. we had some pretty lengthy discussions about all that, that you'd call an unclassified area.