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Remembering CIA's Heroes: Stephen Kasarda

This is part of our series about CIA employees who have made 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 111 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 80 employees; the names of the remaining 31 officers must remain secret, even in death.

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Stephen Kasarda, Jr. was a communications officer who worked for the CIA in the early days of the Cold War. He was killed on May 1, 1960, while on temporary duty in Southeast Asia in support of an Agency air supply mission to Tibet. Steve received a star on the CIA Memorial Wall and his name was unveiled and added to the Book of Honor in 2007.

Early Years:

Steve Kasarda, nicknamed “Gip,” was born in McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania, the only son of an Austrian immigrant who married a local girl and made a modest living as a riveter. He graduated from McKees Rocks High School in 1946 after a spectacular high school sports career playing football, basketball, and baseball. He also enjoyed tennis and played the clarinet in the school band.

Steve joined the Navy after high school in 1946 and served in the Submarine Service until his honorable discharge in May 1950. He was recalled to the Navy during the Korean War and served again, honorably, from January 1951 until his discharge in November 1952. Between his tours of duty with the Navy and following his discharge, Steve worked for the American Bridge Company in various capacities, including as a reamer and fitter’s helper.

Steve’s military service gave him the right skills and background to succeed in intelligence work. He applied to the CIA in 1954 and entered on duty in January 1955 as a communications officer.

Life at CIA:

In his five years with the CIA, Steve had only tough assignments, first in the Middle East and then in Asia. He earned a reputation for hard work and initiative, and in April 1960, at age 30, he was tapped for temporary duty at one of our most sensitive sites.

His job was to support the Agency’s air supply mission to Tibet. He and another officer would live and work in a small communications facility at a remote airfield in Southeast Asia. From there, they would communicate with aircraft supplying the Tibetans, and stand ready to support emergency landings in case of trouble.

His Final Mission:

Only two weeks after arriving at the site, Steve died in a tragic accident. In 105-degree heat, he stripped down to shoes and shorts and scaled the commo building’s steep metal roof to scout sites for new antennas. What he could not have known—no one did—was that the roof carried a lethal current from an improperly grounded wire. It took his life moments later.

Stephen Kasarda, Jr. was 30 years old when he died. His wife, two sisters, and his mother survived him.

Honoring His Service:

After his death, Steve was awarded the Intelligence Medal of Merit for his unswerving devotion to duty and outstanding service under hazardous conditions.

During the annual Memorial Ceremony in 2007, then CIA Director General Michael V. Hayden spoke of Steve’s service and sacrifice to his country, and the duty we have as an Agency to honor the memory of our fallen colleagues like Steve by continuing the mission they served so faithfully.

“For the men and women of CIA, this constellation is more than a memorial, more than a quiet tribute,” said Hayden. “Each star holds memories of a brave intelligence officer whose example we follow, a treasured colleague whose wisdom we keep, or a lost friend whose laughter we miss.”

“Time does not soothe the pain that accompanies thoughts of what might have been. But we can take comfort in knowing what is: The men and women behind these stars lived nobly, served selflessly, and died honorably.”

“They inspire us all.”

“Our nation owes them a tremendous debt of gratitude. We will repay it by living the values they demonstrated so clearly: Loyalty, integrity, excellence and service—these are the things that must guide our work. And then, we will be worthy of their sacrifice.”

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Posted: May 01, 2015 01:22 PM
Last Updated: May 18, 2015 10:57 AM