News & Information

Rss Feed

An Agency Tradition: Remembering Fallen Officers

On June 1, 2009, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) employees gathered before the beautiful marble face of the Memorial Wall in the Original Headquarters Building (OHB) lobby to honor fellow employees who have died in the line of duty. The memorial ceremony is an act of commemoration that occurs around Memorial Day each year. The families, whether their loved one died long ago or just that year, are invited, and many come year after year.

During this year’s memorial service, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (D/CIA) Leon E. Panetta started a new tradition. He presented a replica of a star from the Wall to the brothers of Douglas S. Mackiernan, the first Agency officer killed in service to the United States. Each family of the fallen will be given a star sculpted by the artist who engraves them on the Memorial Wall.

This year’s ceremony also marked the addition of a 90th star carved into the wall in remembrance of an employee killed carrying out the Agency’s mission last year. Due to continuing operational sensitivities, neither the name of the employee nor details of his work can be made public.


Stars for the Fallen

One might assume that such a ritual—coming together to remember CIA’s honored dead—has long been a permanent feature of Agency life. But that’s not the case. For most of the Agency’s history, employees who died in the line of duty were honored in small private ceremonies, usually with only the immediate family and the Director or another senior CIA official present. It was not an act of the Agency community as a whole.

This began to change in 1973, when officers of the Directorate of Operations (today’s National Clandestine Service) sought to commemorate the sacrifice of their colleagues who were killed in Southeast Asia. The Agency leadership embraced the idea, but expanded it to include all deaths of CIA employees regardless of directorate.

In 1974, the Memorial Wall with its initial 31 stars was created in the OHB lobby, but it went up without ceremony as a silent tribute to the fallen. The problem was that it was too silent, and the memories and stories about the “Stars on the Wall”—as those memorialized came to be known—were slipping from the Agency’s collective memory.


A Tradition Begins …

Finally, in 1986, a counterintelligence officer suggested that a ceremony be held annually in front of the Wall because “the majority of our employees, particularly the younger generation, are barely aware of the existence or the significance of this memorial.” The officer said this custom would result in “rising morale and pride in our achievements which, in turn, would greatly contribute to our continuing effort to achieve excellence.”

Again, senior management endorsed this idea from the ranks, beginning a new tradition of honoring CIA’s fallen employees near the national observance of Memorial Day.

On May 27, 1987—with the Agency in its 40th year and with 50 stars on the Wall—Deputy Director Robert Gates presided at the first annual CIA memorial ceremony.


… And Continues

The ceremony has been held every year since 1987 with increasing openness. In 1989, non-Agency family members were first invited, and in 1995, all the memorialized names were read aloud for the first time.


Related Stories and Links:

Historical Document
Posted: Jun 18, 2009 11:12 AM
Last Updated: Apr 30, 2013 12:14 PM