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Remembering CIA’s Heroes: David Lee Konzelman

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 117 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 84 employees; the names of the remaining 33 officers must remain secret, even in death.


David Lee Konzelman was a bright, confident, and engaging young CIA officer working in one of the most complicated and dangerous areas in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. He died on October 24, 1971, from injuries suffered several weeks earlier, when a phosphorus grenade exploded in his hand. He is one of the original 31 stars on the CIA Memorial Wall.

Early Years:

Dave attended DePauw University in Indiana and Willamette University in Oregon, where he studied sociology, earning a BA in 1963. While at Willamette, as part of his curriculum, he served as a part-time caseworker and counselor in the Marion County Juvenile Department.

Life at CIA:

Dave joined the Agency in 1963 as a 22-year-old document analyst. He was assigned to the Records Integration Division in the Directorate of Plans (DDP)—today’s Directorate of Operations. He remained a document analyst during his first three years at the Agency. His job involved reviewing field operational correspondence, primarily in support of the Central European Division in the DDP.

Dave’s strong analytical skills and widening exposure to field operations were significant factors in his 1966 selection by the DDP hierarchy to participate in the prestigious Career Training (CT) Program. He completed the program, and in 1967, he took the Agency’s basic airborne course (comparable to airborne training conducted by the US Army infantry school).

After graduating from the CT program, Dave was designated as an operations officer and was assigned to the DDP’s Special Operations Division. He continued his operational training, gained additional desk experience, and began to prepare for assignment overseas.

Working Overseas:

In the fall of 1967, he was assigned to the Far East Division as a desk officer supporting field operations. His specialty was foreign science and technology. By early 1968, he had begun full-time, intensive language study at the Agency in preparation for his mid-1969 assignment to Southeast Asia as an operations officer.

Dave put his years of experience as an analytically-oriented desk officer to good use in his new assignment. He was highly effective as a reports officer, interrogator, exploiter of operational leads, and developer of assets for targeting and possible recruitment. He also planned and participated in operational training programs.

As a GS-11 operations officer and fledgling manager with a variety of analytical and overseas operational experiences, Dave was called upon several times to serve as acting chief in three different overseas locations while the officer-in-charge was away on leave or for consultations.

His Final Mission:

Dave was assigned to a complicated, troubled area in Southeast Asia. It was there on September 13, 1971, while he was handling munitions, that a phosphorous hand grenade exploded while he was holding it.

A friend and fellow officer of Dave’s recalled when he heard the news. “I heard one day that one of our local operations had gone awry, that a helicopter had been forced to make an emergency landing, hurting someone in the process. It turned out to be much worse than that. Dave had been horribly burned by a white phosphorous grenade. It was a windy day, and the helicopter pilot had apparently requested that a smoke grenade be thrown to show him wind direction as he landed in a small area. A white phosphorous grenade had been used by mistake.”

Severely injured with burns over more than 45 percent of his body, Dave was medically evacuated to the Army’s burn treatment center at Brooke Army General Hospital in Texas. The staff who treated Dave remarked often on his amazing courage and his repeated expressions of gratitude to those seeking to ease his pain.

Dave died three weeks later, just five days after his 31st birthday. He was survived by his father, step mother, and four-year-old daughter. In 1974, Dave Konzelman received one of the original 31 stars on the Agency’s Memorial Wall.


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Posted: Oct 26, 2016 03:46 PM
Last Updated: Oct 26, 2016 04:48 PM