Sister of airman downed in 1958 says U.S. covered up story of survivors

March 05, 1993|By Boston Globe

They called him "Boogie" Bourg because he loved to dance the Boogie Woogie. He married his high school sweetheart, joined the Air Force, and was stationed in Frankfurt, West Germany, in the late 1950s.

With his wife pregnant with their second child, Mr. Bourg signed up for additional missions to earn extra money.

He never returned from his first extra flight.

On Sept. 2, 1958, a U.S. Air Force transport plane carrying Archie Bourg Jr., 21, of Baton Rouge, La., and 16 other servicemen was shot down by Soviet jet fighters over Soviet Armenia, near the Turkish border. Six bodies were returned to the United States, Airman Bourg was declared missing, and in November 1961 Air Force authorities told his family that "the evidence received was considered sufficient to establish death."

But after sifting through more than 4,000 documents recently declassified by the National Archives, Lorna Bourg, his sister, has discovered extensive evidence pointing to something else: a cover-up in her brother's case and others like it.

"It's unforgivable and outrageous that these men were considered expendable, that our government, knowing all the time there were survivors" from the 1958 crash, "didn't do everything it could to get them out," she said from her home in New Iberia, La.

Archie Bourg, an airman second-class with training in linguistics and electronics, is among 133 men still unaccounted for from 37 U.S. spy planes shot down over Soviet territory from 1950 to 1969, according to Defense Department data.

Many key documents concerning Airman Bourg come from the files of Samuel Klaus, a legal affairs officer for Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, who prepared the case for the International Court of Justice to censure the Soviet Union and to get an accounting of the episode. The Air Force closed the case before it could go to court, and Mr. Klaus died in 1963, but in secret correspondence he repeatedly stated his conviction that 11 of the 17 men aboard Airman Bourg's C-130 plane had parachuted into Soviet territory and were being held there.

But Mr. Klaus' efforts were repeatedly blocked by Air Force and CIA agents who directed personnel not to give him pertinent information, according to a secret State Department memo in May 1959. They were less interested in looking for the facts than in developing a "theory about Soviet behavior," Mr. Klaus concluded.

The declassified documents include a letter and a July 12, 1960, report by Horst Petzall, a journalist with International Dateline News, on three Armenians who crossed from the Soviet Union into Turkey June 29, 1960. They told Turkish border guards they had left because secret police were hunting them for harboring 11 U.S. airmen shot down Sept. 2, 1958.

"The Armenians claimed they sheltered the missing airmen for several months, then sent them to other [unreadable] families of the Armenian underground network," Mr. Petzall wrote. "They said the Americans were in good health and hiding out in the dense mountain forests, awaiting an opportunity to cross the border into Turkey."

But apparently the opportunity never came. Soviet authorities admitted that 11 men had parachuted from the C-130 plane and eventually "were captured in the vicinity of Yereven," the Armenian capital, according to a Jan. 25, 1961, note from the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.

Despite all this, a November 1961 Air Force document declared: "Consideration of the information available to the Department of the Air Force and factors involved appear to lead to no other logical conclusion than that the subject personnel crashed with the C-130." The case was closed and the family received a casualty report confirming Airman Bourg's statutory death.

In a secret memorandum dated Nov. 20, 1958, a highly placed State Department official said the public would not be told that 11 men from the C-130 flight are alive "to discourage relatives from bringing pressure when we can do nothing."

The documents also suggest one other reason for closing the case.

Internal communiques make clear that the plane had photo-mapping capability, and its flight path turned out to be "practically the same as the U-2" spy mission flown by Francis Gary Powers when he was shot down in May 1960.

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