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The Importance of Tradition: The Annual Memorial Ceremony

On Monday, June 7, family members, friends, and Agency employees gathered near the Memorial Wall in the lobby of the Original Headquarters Building to honor CIA officers who gave their lives in the line of duty. During this year’s service, 12 new stars were unveiled, bringing the total number on the wall to 102.

As Agency employees gaze at the stars carved into the stark white marble, they are reminded of the Agency’s mission and why they come to work each day. This ceremony touches the lives of every Agency employee, whether they are just beginning their career or have served many years.


Participating in a Tradition

Some Agency employees feel so strongly about the Memorial Ceremony that they choose to participate in it, whether singing in the Agency choir — the Keynotes — or presenting a wreath of flowers as a member of the Honor Guard.

Douglas has participated in many ceremonies as a member of the Keynotes.

“As part of my being a officer of the Agency community at large, it is an honor and privilege to partake in the ceremony. In my 33 years here, the number of stars has grown significantly. It is totally humbling that so many of our colleagues have continued to perish in their effort to help the Agency fulfill its mission to the U.S. Government and its goal to keep America safe. I owe it to the named and unnamed deceased to spend a few minutes to show my respect for their sacrifice.”

Security Protective Officer Jason — an Agency employee of three years — participates in the Memorial Ceremony as a member of the Honor Guard.

“To me, the memorial ceremony is a way for us to honor the lives and the sacrifices made by the men and women who gave their lives serving their mission, protecting the American people,” Jason said.


Meaningful Traditions

The Memorial Ceremony is a tradition — started in 1987 — that has evolved and grown over the years. Agency employees find different aspects of the ceremony more meaningful for different reasons.

In 1995, a roll call of all the employees — overt and covert — in the Book of Honor was added to the ceremony. The reading aloud of every name is only done during the Memorial Ceremony. Many Agency employees find this part of the ceremony the most moving.

“This is one time each year when each of our heroes is recognized individually, yet they are united on the Memorial Wall as one team, representing the mission and spirit of the Agency. They will never be forgotten,” said Christy, an Agency officer of seven years.

“The memorial ceremony is an important event for all of us because it helps remind each of us, regardless of our Directorate or position, that we are all working together toward a common goal in an uncommon endeavor,” said Craig. “The people honored gave their lives in public service. Their service is veiled from the public view, so we are the only ones who can remember their sacrifice, the only ones who can offer comfort to their families and colleagues.”

The wreath laying is another important tradition in the Memorial Ceremony. During this part of the ceremony, a member of the Honor Guard — accompanied by the Director — places a wreath of flowers in front of the Book of Honor.

Jason has participated in the past two Memorial Ceremonies as a member of the Agency’s Honor Guard. As a participant, he finds the wreath laying the most meaningful moment during the ceremony.

“While it is only a small part, it is a moving and powerful staple that brings the ceremony to a close,” Jason said.


A Symbolic Wall

Other Agency officers find the Memorial Wall itself the most moving part of the tradition because it serves as an everyday reminder of the price their colleagues paid in service to our nation.

“Every time I walk past the memorial wall, I take the time to think about our colleagues who sacrificed their lives for our freedom,” said 20-year Agency officer Kendra. “I reflect on their accomplishments and pray for their families.”

“Both the Memorial Wall and the ceremony are part of an important tradition that not only brings us together as an Agency, but makes us feel more connected to our predecessors—and proud of our heroes from every generation. The wall is a powerful symbol—one of quiet heroism—that reflects CIA’s highest ideals,” said 20-year Agency employee Matthew.

“To drive past a traditional cemetery, you know that families and friends gathered there to bury their loved one. Many times, hardly anyone returns to the plot after the burial. With the memorial wall, we have a constant reminder of the person behind each star. The stars are viewed dozens of times each day and hopefully each person looking at the wall has a great sense of gratitude for each person represented on the wall,” said Douglas.

Twelve-year employee Michele refers to a 2001 speech by then CIA Deputy Director John McLaughlin:

“The stars on the Memorial Wall are more than a symbol. They are more than history. They are a priceless part of who we are.”


One Great Big Family

For many employees, the Agency is like a family. The Memorial Ceremony is a time to remember and reflect on the sacrifices some members of the Agency family have made.

“For me, the Agency is a family,” said Craig. “We may not know each officer who works here, but the bonds between all of us are strong.”

“As with any family member who has died, keeping them in your thoughts and prayers is important,” said Douglas. “For the Agency family, having an annual ceremony to remember our fallen colleagues is especially important. The wall of stars is a constant reminder of the work that we do and the price that is paid by some member of our Agency family in the course of their daily work.”

Read more about this year’s Memorial Ceremony.


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Posted: Jun 11, 2010 09:57 AM
Last Updated: Apr 30, 2013 12:38 PM