CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO (KFVS) - Eldon Ray Cox is banned from ever setting foot in Russia again.
It all happened after a chance encounter with this Russian spy in Moscow almost 50 years ago.
"His name was Oleg Penkovsky. He never gave us his name. We never gave him our names. He came up to my friend and said do you have a light?" Cox said.
They did not have a light, but Cox says they had something far more valuable; American passports that would give them access to the U.S. Embassy.
"He had very, very important information. He said I must have you take it to the embassy," Cox said.
Cox decided to help Oleg Penkovsky, but embassy officials would disappoint him.
"He began to lecture me scold me about accepting letters. He said the KGB sets people up, bribes them and takes compromising pictures, and I was boiling inside."
Cox says this book "The Spy Who Saved the World" explains what Penkovsky was trying to do.
"Without his intelligence we could have gotten into a nuclear war," he said.
It's difficult to imagine the man enjoying his lunch with friends in Cape Girardeau, carrying around so many secrets. But Cox says he only revealed his story when authors of the book called him years later.
He says he understood the KGB defector's frustration, especially after meeting Penkovsky a second time.
"We agreed to meet the next night," Cox said. "He asked did you take the envelope... And then 'How did they receive it?' I said 'weren't very happy, weren't very pleased with the information,' and his countenance dropped, and he walked away."
Cox says he identified Penkovsky to CIA agents months later.
"The instant my finger touched his picture, the CIA agent leaped off his chair said I knew it. I said I knew it too, I said 'I couldn't get those... nincompoops at the American Embassy to listen to me,'" Cox said.
Russian authorities eventually arrested and executed Penkovsky, but Cox says he was so sad he chose not to find out how it happened until last week.
"I wondered if they had been on the ball and received information from him. He wouldn't have got caught?"
That's a question Eldon Ray Cox says will probably go unanswered.