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Remembering CIA’s Heroes: William Pierce Boteler

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.


William Pierce Boteler—an engaging, athletic young officer who excelled at almost anything he put his mind to—was on the front lines of the Cold War in the early 1950s. He came to the Agency directly out of college and recruited assets in Europe and East Asia before being assigned to a small island in the Mediterranean Sea, then in great turmoil. Only a month after arriving, Bill was killed by bombs that two young boys tossed into a café. He was not the intended target.

A promising young officer, a promising young life, taken in error. Taken because Bill Boteler was ready to go to a place of hazard for his country. He is one of the original 31 stars.

Early Life:

William Boteler joined the Agency on June 14, 1951, as a GS-05 intelligence assistant assigned to the East European Division in the Directorate of Plans―today’s Directorate of Operations. He was 21 years old, a graduate of Haverford College in Pennsylvania, with a BA in English and strong interests in philosophy, literature, history, and the French language. Bill was a receiver on Haverford’s football team and a catcher on the baseball team, of which he was co-captain.

Life at CIA:

Following accelerated CIA basic tradecraft training, Bill was assigned to an operational post in Europe. He recruited and trained East European refugees who would then be sent behind the Iron Curtain to gather intelligence and engage in operations designed to disrupt and destabilize East European Communist regimes.

Bill completed his tour of duty in Europe in the summer of 1953, returned to the United States, and entered an Agency-sponsored military basic training program. In January 1954 he was sent to East Asia as an operations officer and paramilitary specialist. He completed this tour in late 1955.

Upon returning home, Bill started taking dance lessons: He wanted to avoid the embarrassment of having “two left feet” were he to attend any formal parties while serving overseas. What he didn’t expect was to fall madly in love with his dance instructor. The couple planned to marry when Bill returned home from his next overseas assignment.

Bill was slated to begin another overseas assignment in Europe in January 1956. A change, however, had been made in the Selective Service rules that had permitted him to fulfill his military service obligation by serving in CIA-sponsored military intelligence work. As a result, he was required to perform several more months of Agency-sponsored military duty. After completing this assignment, he was sent to the Mediterranean Sea area in early June 1956 as a GS-11 Operations Officer.

His Final Mission:

While there, Bill focused on learning the local language, getting comfortable with his environment, and establishing operational and political contacts.

On June 16, 1956, Bill was working late. When he finally left his office, he stopped at a small café in a section of town called Little Soho, well known for its Hungarian fare. The café was crowded with British nationals and locals; several Americans also were present.

Bill took a seat at a small table near the front door. Two young boys suddenly appeared in the doorway and hurled two bombs, both landing under Bill’s table. He caught the full force of the blasts. Gravely wounded, Bill Boteler died that night on the island in the Mediterranean Sea. He was 26 years old.

Three weeks later, a letter arrived at the American Consulate. It was titled “Tragic Mistake” and was signed by the local terrorist group’s leader. The letter explained that the bombs were meant for British officials, not Americans. Bill was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.


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Posted: Jun 28, 2016 01:08 PM
Last Updated: Jun 30, 2016 04:38 PM