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Remembering CIA's African American Heroes

107 stars line the CIA Memorial Wall at CIA Headquarters.
The CIA Memorial Wall honors those officers who made the ultimate sacrifice and gave their lives in service to their country.  The stars carved into the wall represent each of the 107* officers killed in the line of duty.  The names that can be revealed are listed in the Book of Honor. In honor of Black History Month, we are commemorating the three African American stars on the CIA Memorial Wall:

Edward Johnson (1923-1965)

Edward Johnson joined the CIA in 1955 as a clerk working in the Deputy Directorate for Plans (forerunner to today’s National Clandestine Service (NCS)). Early in his career, Edward expressed a strong desire to become involved in operations. He went on his first overseas assignment as an administrative assistant and courier shortly after joining the Agency. He continued to serve with increased responsibilities in various countries in Southeast Asia and South America throughout his career.

Edward’s experience in the field and exposure to operations tradecraft prepared him for his first operational mission in 1961. He developed new skills and held a variety of positions over the years, serving as an operations officer, an intelligence adviser and project leader. In 1965, while serving in Southeast Asia, the helicopter Edward and another Agency officer were riding in crashed during heavy rainfall.  He was 42 years old. He was posthumously awarded the Agency’s Intelligence Medal of Merit, an award given to CIA officers for exceptional service that has contributed significantly to the Agency’s mission.

Wilbur Greene (1930-1972)

Wilbur Greene joined the CIA in 1967 in the Deputy Directorate for Plans (now known as the NCS).  Before starting at CIA, Wilbur had a distinguished 20-year military career with the U.S. Army.  He had impressive combat service in the Southeast Asia region and he spoke Vietnamese. After only a few months of operational training at CIA Headquarters, Wilbur arrived in the field in March 1968.

Tragically, during the first months of his first overseas assignment, Wilbur’s wife was killed in an automobile accident in the U.S. Shortly after his loss—after arranging for the care of his young children—Wilbur returned to his assignment leading a combat unit.

Wilbur continued to take on assignments critical to the U.S. effort during the Vietnam War. His exceptionally strong leadership and organizational skills, extensive military experiences, perseverance under harsh conditions, and ability to train others helped him navigate the complicated political environment during his assignments in Southeast Asia. In April 1972, Wilbur died overseas of complications following a gallbladder operation.  At the time of his death, Wilbur was serving his second tour of duty as Chief of Paramilitary Operations.  He was 41 years old.

Jacqueline Van Landingham (1961-1995)

Jackie Van Landingham joined the CIA in July 1985 as a clerk-typist, working in the Directorate of Operations (now known as the NCS).  She provided administrative support to Headquarters logistical support officers, as well as overseas stations and bases.  With no previous Agency experience, Jackie adapted quickly to the fast pace of her office, handling high volume cable traffic and an assortment of logistical support duties.  Less than a year after her entrance on duty, she trained for an overseas assignment as an operations support assistant.  Jackie also received a substantial cash award for her excellent performance—not a routine occurrence for a new employee.

Jackie took on her first overseas assignment in 1986. As she advanced professionally with the Agency, she also began to grow her family. She met her husband while on assignment overseas and had two daughters in the early 1990s. Jackie worked between CIA Headquarters and several field assignments in the years to follow. She began her last assignment in the Middle East in the summer of 1994. On March 8, 1995, Jackie was riding a shuttle bus to work. Two gun-wielding terrorists armed with AK-47 rifles attacked the bus.  Jackie—the only agency officer aboard the shuttle—was fatally wounded and died shortly after arriving at the hospital. She was 33 years old.

To learn more about the contributions African American officers have made to the CIA throughout history, read the related stories below.

*Updated July 2014: As of May 19, 2014, there are currently 111 stars on the CIA Memorial Wall.

Dr. Ralph J. Bunche: An African-American Leader in the Intelligence Community

A Look Back ... The Black Dispatches: Intelligence During the Civil War

Historical Document
Posted: Feb 06, 2014 07:42 AM
Last Updated: Jul 10, 2014 12:23 PM