Remembering CIA's Heroes: James A. Rawlings
This is a 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 89 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 54 employees; the names of the remaining 35 officers must remain secret, even in death.
A positive attitude is a quality that is admired in a person. This is one of many attributes that James (Jim) A. Rawlings brought to his career as a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) logistics officer. In January 1975, Jim was on board a cargo plane that crashed over Vietnam. He was declared missing. A year later, the CIA issued a “presumptive determination” of death.
Jim was a native of the Washington, D.C. area and attended Benjamin Franklin University (which is now part of George Washington University) where he earned a bachelor’s degree in commercial science.
Armed with his degree and looking for a way to make a difference in the world, Jim joined the CIA in May 1955 as a clerk in the Records Integration Division of the Directorate for Plans (now the National Clandestine Service). It was a historical and exciting time to be joining the Agency, which was in the midst of its formative years.
Jim’s son, James A. Rawlings, Jr.—who is currently an Agency employee—felt that his father’s reasons for joining the Agency at the time were purely patriotic.
“It was the mission and what the Agency was responsible for,” James said. “It was a way to do something that was important.”
During his career at the CIA, Jim wore many different hats. He worked as an Agency courier and a property and supply officer in the Office of Logistics. Jim also served in logistical positions around the world, and he often volunteered for overseas tours for the good of the mission.
Work Hard, Play Hard
Jim developed a reputation as a hard worker and someone who could get the job done. He considered no job too large or too difficult to accomplish.
“My father knew how to get the job done, but at the same time, he had a good sense of humor,” James said. “He liked to keep things light as much as possible.”
Jim also was known for his dedication to the mission and his integrity. And he never failed to help out a friend in need.
“My father had a real sense of family in that if other folks needed help, he would always be there, especially overseas,” James said.
Another portrayal of Jim’s determination and perseverance was his aptitude for bowling. While serving overseas, Jim bowled in several leagues and tournaments. Jim’s son said that he probably could have been a professional bowler.
“My father had over a 200 average in every league he ever bowled in,” James said. “I was always trying to beat him. I came close a couple times, but I never did.”
Like Father, Like Son
Jim’s career at the Agency made an impression on his son, who followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the Agency as soon as he graduated from college. He didn’t even consider other options.
“I felt like this was the right place for me to be,” James said.
Like his father, James is also a support officer, but he has spent most of his 30-year career in the Office of Finance.
“My father’s career at the Agency taught me a lot,” he said. “As support officers, both he and I work hard to support our coworkers. Not all of us are analysts or collectors. A support officer’s job is to do whatever you can to make sure that the other people you’re working with can accomplish their jobs.”
James was 16 years old when he learned about the plane crash. Up until his father’s remains were discovered in the early 90s, James always wondered if it were possible that his father was still alive.
“We felt both relief and disappointment when we found out,” James said. “Finally finding my father’s remains brought closure for my family.”
Jim’s family decided to hold a small, private ceremony to bury the remains of their husband and father in February 1994.
Remembering a Hero
In February 1976, then-DCI George Bush posthumously awarded Jim the Exceptional Service Emblem (now the Exceptional Service Medallion).
Jim’s memory lives on with a star on the Agency’s Memorial Wall. His name also appears in the Book of Honor. He is survived by his wife Linda, his son James, his daughter Lisa, and three grand-daughters—Jessica, Stephanie and Emily.