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Cold War Christmas: 1960

Cold War Christmas: 1960

Christmas 1960. "Mrs. McKone, RB-47 wife." John McKone, an Air Force lieutenant whose plane was shot down over the Arctic Ocean by the Russians, came home in January 1961 after six months in Lyubyanka Prison. Blurry but atmospheric Kodachrome by Grey Villet, Life photo archive. View full size.

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Major Eugene Posa

My grandfather was Major Eugene Posa. I grew up never knowing much about him, since my Grandmother could never bear to talk about what happened. I knew bits and pieces throughout the years and finally in my Grandmothers last years she was able to speak about my Grandfather. She was never truly the same since news of his disappearance and it had lasting effects on both my mother and my aunt who were 10 and 11 when it happened. I have always been interested and have read all I could find regarding what happened. However one day I hope the where abouts of my Grandfathers remains will be known. So we can give him the proper burial he so deserves. That is all my Grandmother ever wanted.

Appreciate the comment about military wives

This picture could almost have been my mother, my sister and I, and our baby brother, one of the four years that Dad was away serving our country during Christmas. Having a parent in the military requires sacrifice from the rest of the family, too.

Lead Tinsel

The tinsel back then had lots of lead in it. As kids we'd wander the neighborhood the week after Christmas collecting tinsel off discarded trees and roll it into heavy marble sized balls.


Wow. What awful Christmas trees we used to have. At least it's not the aluminum one that was illuminated only by a a separate revolving light that changed the entire tree to blue, then green, and then red. Those were the days.

Holy Tinsel!

I know helicopter parenting is a relatively new phenomenon, but I can't help worrying that the baby is going to pull those copious amounts of low-hanging tinsel down and eat it!

Of course, that baby is probably sitting somewhere right now embarrassing his grandkids with the story of his tinsel-filled diapers on Christmas morning.

It's nice but...

It's a great picture but with these LIFE posts I'm starting to miss the 'History in HD' I'd like to see. If only Google could post higher resolution scans of these great photos.

The rest of the story

1 July 1960 A US Air Force ERB-47H Stratojet (53-4281) of the 38th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron, 55th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing, flying over the Barents Sea was downed by Soviet pilot Vasili Poliakov, flying a MiG-15 Fagot. Co-pilot Bruce Olmstead and navigator John McKone survived and were taken captive. The pilot, Bill Palm and ELINT operators Eugene Posa, Oscar Goforth and Dean Phillips were killed. Olmstead and McKone were released from Soviet captivity on January 25th, 1961. Bill Palm's remains were returned to the US on July 25, 1960. Eugene Posa's remains were recovered by the Soviets, but never returned to the US.

Wonderfully Evocative

So evocative of that time period. Military wives trying to make Christmas "normal" when the father wasn't there. I can remember a lot of pictures like this being taken to send overseas. I'm sure there are a lot of similar shots being taken now.

Col. McKone

In a 1996 interview Col. McKone discussed the incident in the context of the 1960 presidential elections. Richard Nixon's running mate, Henry Cabot Lodge, had been a harsh critic of Soviet behavior back when he was ambassador to the United Nations. The release of the two surviving crew members in early 1961 was seen by some as a goodwill gesture toward the new Kennedy administration.

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