Memorial Day 30 Years Ago: CIA Honors [Redacted]


The declassified speech, from 30 years ago this Memorial Day, reads like many others written for those who have laid down their lives in defense of the nation. It extols heroism, selflessness, patriotism and, most poignantly, sacrifice. But as the speech was given at the CIA, to those pillars of remembrance another was added: secrecy, even in death.

"We alone know the importance of the contribution these men and women made," then-CIA Director William Webster said in 1988 [PDF] of fallen CIA officers. "And we share in the legacy of courage, devotion, and selflessness that is their enduring gift to their country. The man we have chosen to honor specifically today is [REDACTED]. The Deputy Director of Operations, Dick Stolz, will now tell you about his life and the circumstances that led to his star on the [CIA's Memorial Wall]."

Most of Stolz's remarks are redacted as well but even the parts that survive are riddled with holes:

A star on the wall of the agency is precious little when we consider the nature of [REDACTED] sacrifice. Those of us here today know that [REDACTED] and other fallen colleagues died in the service of their country and the CIA. Because we cannot speak of the work that we do — just as [REDACTED] could not speak openly of the work he undertook [REDACTED] years ago — it is all the more important that sacrifices such as [REDACTED] are known to the men and women who serve this agency.

It was only the second year that the CIA had held the Memorial Day ceremony. After the glowing rememberence of the unnamed fallen officer, the agency dedicated a plaque to Air America, the CIA-run airline to provide "secure air lift" for CIA operations in Asia.

"Although at the time of the purchase there was disagreement in CIA and the U.S. Government about the wisdom of this move and about whether or not CIA really needed its own secure airlift capability, the more far-sighted view prevailed," reads remarks prepared by a CIA official whose name is, of course, redacted in the declassified documents. "Thus began a saga which, for can-do attitude, professional aviation excellence, individual heroism, and contributions to the conduct of CIA's mission may never be equalled."

The original memorial plaque, dedicated the same year at the University of Texas, included 240 names of individuals of "many nationalities" who died in service related to the air lift program. The unnamed official said the employees weren't CIA officers "in technical/legal" sense of the word, but they undertook dangerous missions on behalf of the agency. A declassified memo gave an unofficial count of some 70 Americans who died while working in the program.

"Included are some extraordinary heroes whose bravery and achievements under other circumstances would have warranted this country's highest awards for valor," the unnamed official said.

The official said he often asked the Air America personnel a question that could be asked of any CIA officer: why they did it, why they "risk[ed] their lives for us with no hope of recognition or credit and, often, for less money than they would have" elsewhere.

"The answer was not a simple one," the official said. "It was a combination of reasons which differed according to individual role and perspective. But there were two common threads -- patriotism and pride; a steadfast belief that we... were important to our nation's defense and that we deserved their support; and a deep pride that they were being asked to do that which, they were well aware, no one else could do."

Read More: CIA's Air America (PDF)

Primary Source: CIA Memorial Day Ceremony, 1988 (PDF)

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