Remembering CIA's Heroes: Richard S. Welch
This article is part of our series on the lives of CIA men and women who have died while serving their country.
Currently, there are 102 stars carved into the marble of CIA’s Memorial Wall. The wall stands as a silent, simple memorial to those employees who have made the ultimate sacrifice. Some of the names must remain secret, even in death.
Richard S. Welch
During Richard Welch’s Agency career, he was known for his love of Greece and world travel. He gained a reputation for being an excellent Greek linguist. On December 23, 1975, Welch was killed in a terrorist attack in Greece.
A Traveling Man
Welch was born in Hartford, Connecticut, on December 14, 1929. He attended Harvard University and became known on campus as a brilliant classics major.
After graduating in 1951, Welch was recruited to work for the CIA. His first assignment was as a case officer in Greece. True to his love for culture, travel, and the Agency, Welch served all over the world during his career.
In the summer of 1974, Welch was asked to return to Greece to lead the Station there. Welch agreed immediately, saying, “I’m pinching myself to have a chance to come back to the country that I really love.”
During this tour, Welch’s identity was revealed in foreign publications, endangering the safety of him and his family.
A Sad End to an Honorable Career
On the night of December 23, 1975, Welch and his family attended a Christmas party at the American Ambassador’s residence. Upon returning home, Welch exited the car to open the main gate. A man appeared amid the darkness and called to Welch. As Welch turned, the man shot him. The wound was fatal..
Five days after the attack, a terrorist group called “Revolutionary Organization 17 November” claimed responsibility for Welch’s death. It wasn’t until 2003—almost 28 years later—that the people responsible for the murder of Welch and several other foreign diplomats were caught and convicted. They escaped conviction for Welch’s death because of a 20-year statute of limitations.
A Burial Befitting a Hero
At President Gerald Ford’s order, Welch was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. On the 25th anniversary of Welch’s murder, the U.S. Embassy in Athens dedicated a bronze plaque at his former residence, which now houses the U.S. Marine Security Guard detachment. The plaque reads:
“In memory of Richard S. Welch, slain at this place December 23, 1975, in the service of his country. Personal sacrifice is the price of freedom.”
Welch’s murder and those of several other foreign diplomats led to passage of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982. The law makes it illegal to reveal the name of an agent who has a covert relationship with an American intelligence organization.