53 years ago this month, our nation breathed a collective sigh of relief as American U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers was returned by the Soviet Union in exchange for a Soviet spy.
For those who may remember the incident, or perhaps learned about it in history class, it marked a very tense time during the Cold War. Powers was performing photographic aerial reconnaissance in the U2—an ultra-high altitude plane which could reach heights of 70,000 feet— when he was hit by a surface to air missile and surface-to-air missile and crashed. Powers parachuted safely and was captured. He was released two years later.
Despite this incident, the U2 was one of the most important aircrafts in America’s defense arsenal. It was designed by Lockheed at its legendary Skunk Works, which at the time, was in Burbank, not far from Forest Lawn-Hollywood Hills. The leader of Skunk Works was Clarence “Kelly” Johnson, who worked for more than 40 years on some of the most important and sensitive aircraft projects in history.
The U2, SR-71 Blackbird and other aircraft designed under Johnson’s leadership were vital to America’s defense, and he was widely recognized as one of the most talented and prolific aircraft engineers in history.
When Johnson passed away in 1990, his funeral service was held on the forecourt of the Birth of Liberty Mosaic at Forest Lawn-Hollywood Hills, overlooking the San Fernando Valley and the former home of Skunk Works. His service culminated with a fly over by a U2 plane, which made a breathtaking ascent to the heavens, disappearing out of sight of the gathering below. It was a fitting tribute that reflected his life’s work and passion.
While most of us haven’t designed aircraft like the U2, we each have passions, stories and a legacy that make us unique and special to the people we love. Those things make a memorial service all the more meaningful.
If you would like more information on how to create a memorial service that truly reflects and honors a life well lived, give us a call at 1:800-FOREST and we can provide you with some helpful information.