Remembering CIA’s Heroes: James J. McGrath
This is the second in a series of articles about the CIA employees who have given the ultimate sacrifice. Here we will look at the lives of the men and women who have died while serving their country.
Currently, there are 87 stars carved into the marble of the CIA Memorial Wall. The wall stands as a silent, simple memorial to those employees “who gave their lives in the service of their country.” The CIA has released the names of 54 employees; the names of the remaining 33 officers must remain secret, even in death.
James J. McGrath
In January 1957, the CIA lost one of its own. James McGrath was repairing a broken transmitter in Germany when he died.
James was born in Middletown, Connecticut on October 24, 1927. After graduating from high school in 1945, James enlisted in the United States Navy. During his time with the Navy, he served as a radar and communications technician aboard US Navy ships in the Far East. He served honorably until his discharge in 1948.
After his discharge, James returned to Connecticut where he worked as an electrical repairman. He applied to the CIA and was hired in February 1951.
Life at CIA
During the 2007 dedication and memorial ceremony, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, General Mike Hayden said of James, “James McGrath joined CIA in 1951 … He was searching for a better future and saw in the Agency a place that would both use his skills and satisfy his desire to serve. Asia was the natural choice for his first tour of duty. He had spent most of his time in the Navy there. And, in less than four years, he rose from GS-5 to GS-11—a testament to his talent, and a reflection of the high regard his colleagues had for him.”
In his performance appraisals, McGrath’s supervisors praised his extraordinary initiative, sense of responsibility, and ability to get things done. During his successful tour with the Asia Communications Area, he was transferred from operations support to engineering.
Soon James was assigned to Germany, where the Cold War standoff between liberty and tyranny was still in its first decade. He and his team of officers were responsible for maintaining and operating a transmitter site in Germany.
“When information our country needed was in short supply, James helped pull back the Iron Curtain.” Hayden said during the ceremony.
On the day he died, James was repairing a broken transmitter—essential work—when, in a terrible accident, he was electrocuted. He was 29. He was survived by his wife, who was expecting their second child, their daughter, and his parents.
Remembering James McGrath
The CIA honored McGrath with a star on the CIA Memorial Wall in 2007. He is remembered for his bravery and dedication. His name is included in the CIA Book of Honor.