William F. Buckley, a legendary Agency officer, died on June 3, 1985 after enduring 14 months in terrorist custody. Bill was abducted in Beirut, Lebanon, which set off one of the most grueling periods in the CIA’s history. His legacy of bravery and resolve has inspired Agency officers who have followed in his footsteps.
Bill joined the CIA after distinguishing himself during the Korean War as Company Commander with the US Army’s 1st Cavalry Division. His heroism was on full display when he captured a North Korean machine gun nest, an act of valor that earned him a Silver Star. His military valor also earned him two Purple Hearts, the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry, and a Combat Infantry Badge, among other awards.
Life at CIA:
Elements of Bill’s career at the CIA remain classified, but he was one of the first Agency officers to grasp the growing threat from international terrorism. In the late 1970s, for example, Bill helped develop the Incident Response Team and the Counterterrorism Group, the forerunner to today’s Counterterrorism Center. His assignments took him around the globe, as there was no mission that Bill would turn down.
It came as no surprise to Bill’s colleagues that he volunteered to serve as the CIA Station Chief in Lebanon following the 1983 Beirut Embassy bombing, the deadliest attack in CIA history. Underscoring his bravery, Bill took the assignment acutely aware of Beirut’s high threat environment, which had included credible threats against other US officials posted there. Bill immediately brought energy and focus to the primary mission: countering the terrorists that had taken the lives of several CIA colleagues, as well as State Department and Military counterparts.
His Last Mission:
It was in the service of this mission on a clear March morning that Islamic Jihad operatives kidnapped Bill while he was en route to work. Despite a government-wide rescue effort, Bill died in captivity on June 3, 1985.
The CIA that year held a memorial service and honored him with a star on the Memorial Wall and with the Distinguished Intelligence Cross, the CIA’s highest honor. In 1988, Bill was symbolically laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors, and his remains were returned to the United States in 1991.
In a statement released on March 16, 2014, on the anniversary of Bill’s abduction, CIA Director John Brennan spoke of Bill’s heroism and legacy:
We remember Bill not for the manner in which he died but for the legacy he left behind. From his time as an Army Lieutenant Colonel to his tenure with the Agency, Bill inspired those around him to do great things despite often dangerous conditions. Those of us who knew Bill were fortunate enough to witness his courage firsthand, but his legend is one that continues to captivate and inspire a younger generation of officers.