Remembering CIA Barbara A. Robbins (July 26, 1943 – March 30, 1965) [The Enduring Mystery of the Anonymous 1965 Star]

“To this day, Barbara Robbins is the youngest officer memorialized on our Wall. She was the first American woman to die in Vietnam and the first woman in our Agency’s history to make the ultimate sacrifice.  Nine women since then have fallen in service to our mission. Today we remember them all, with great love and great admiration.”

CIA Director Leon Panetta — Memorial Ceremony (May 23 2011)

Barbara Robins – Nha Trang – 1964

March 30 2021 –Officially, the first female CIA officer to die in the line of duty and receive a star on the Memorial Wall was Barbara Robbins. On March 30 1965, two years after joining the Agency, she was killed in a car bombing of the US Embassy in South Vietnam. Follow us on Twitter: @Intel_Today

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“The agency’s unwillingness to inscribe the names of its anonymous stars in the Book of Honor, particularly those dead 20, 30, even 40 years, contributes to a perception, among some family members, that the CIA is an institution mired in bureaucracy, a vast machinery that finds it easiest to classify first and ask questions later — if ever.”

Ted Gup — The Washington Post (Sept. 1997)

UPDATE (March 30 2021) — The Mysterious 1965 Star —  The CIA has honored many of its people who died in 1965 as you can tell from these pictures of the Book of Honor (2003 & 2009).

*****     *****      ***** *****      *****

A special page  “CIA Book of Honor” has been created. This will allow you to find easily the references to the stars we have already written about. I will try to keep this page up to date.

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You will notice that five 1965  stars are named:

Eugene “Buster” Edens
John W. Waltz
Edward Johnson
Michael M. Deuel
Michael A. Maloney

However, two were still classified at the time of these pictures. Allow me a few comments and one question.

Note 1 — Louis O’Jibway, who is listed in the year 1966, actually died  in 1965! Both Edward Johnson and Louis O’Jibway were CIA intelligence officers working for Air America.

They were killed when their helicopter crashed into the Mekong River in Southeast Asia on August 20, 1965. The CIA’s Book of Honor incorrectly lists O’Jibway’s date of death as 1966.

Note 2 — We know today that Barbara Robbins was honored with one of the original 31 stars in 1974, but her name was not included in the Book of Honor until May 2011. Thus Robbins is one of the previously two classified names of the 1965 year.

Note 3 — Another American died in the car bombing of the US Embassy in South Vietnam. Who is he/she? Could that person be the mysterious star?

Note 4 — During the 2016 CIA Memorial Ceremony,  four stars were added to the Wall, including one to honor Marcell Rene Gough who died in a car accident ( in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) in 1965.

Note 5 — To the best of my knowledge, the CIA has never revealed who is the unnamed 1965 star?

What can possibly justify secrecy after 6 decades? Perhaps, the time has come to let us know?

END of UPDATE

“If the CIA’s wall is a memorial to the agency’s martyrs, it is also a monument to its culture of secrecy.”

Barbara Annette Robbins (July 26, 1943 – March 30, 1965) was an American secretary employed by the Central Intelligence Agency. She was killed in a car bombing of the United States Embassy, Saigon.

Barbara Robbins (on the left) and friend Grace Joyce playing on the beach in Nha Trang (Fall 1964)

Robbins was the first female employee to be killed in action in the CIA’s history, the first American woman killed in the Vietnam War and, as of 2012, the youngest CIA employee to die in action.

“On the morning of March 30, 1965, Barbara heard loud gunfire from outside the window. She rushed to the window to see that the shots had come from a policeman trying to stop a vehicle, which had come too close to the embassy.

When the policeman opened fire on the vehicle, another man on a scooter drove up next to the vehicle and shot the policeman. A 300-pound bomb inside the vehicle then exploded, throwing back the observers at the windows.

The force of the blast also threw window glass, air conditioners, and iron window grates, which ultimately killed Barbara, another American and several Vietnamese.”  [CIA Website]

At the 2011 Memorial Service, when her name was finally publicly acknowledged, then-Director Leon Panetta said:

“To this day, Barbara is the youngest officer memorialized on our Wall.

She was the first American woman to die in Vietnam and the first woman in our Agency’s history to make the ultimate sacrifice.

Nine women since then have fallen in service to our mission. Today we remember them all, with great love and great admiration.”

“I imagine you’re still wondering about Doug (Johnson). I still haven’t given him an answer and I may not between now and at the time he leaves. . . . The trouble is I’m not at all sure how I feel about him. Time, I guess, will be the deciding factor. That’s all for now. Love, Barbara”

 Barbara A. Robbins — Last letter to her parents (March 23 1965)

Eleven Stars

The Memorial Wall is a memorial at the Central Intelligence Agency headquarters in Langley, Virginia.

“IN HONOR OF THOSE MEMBERS OF THE CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY WHO GAVE THEIR LIVES IN THE SERVICE OF THEIR COUNTRY”

It honors CIA employees who died in the line of service. There are 135 stars carved into the white Alabama marble wall.

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According to a recent post by CIA Molly Hale (March 18 2019), eleven stars represent women.

“We have an ivory-white marble wall in our lobby at CIA Headquarters that stands as a silent, simple memorial to honor the women and men who have given their lives in service to our country.

Currently, there are 129 stars carved into the marble of the CIA Memorial Wall: 91 are unclassified.

Of those, 11 represent women.”

Actually, the first ever CIA officer to die while working for the Agency was also a woman: her name was Jane Wallis Burrell.

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At a time when most women in US intelligence worked in clerical roles, Jane was a CIA counterintelligence officer who served in all of CIA’s predecessor agencies: the Office of Strategic Services, the Strategic Services Unit, and the Central Intelligence Group.

Ted Gup on Barbara A. Robbins

On September 7 1997, The Washington Post published a long story about six anonymous CIA stars, including Robbins. Here is an extract.

Barbara Annette Robbins would not have found a leading role in the novels of Ian Fleming or Tom Clancy. She was a workaday secretary, a GS-5. Her father was a meat cutter. When she was born on June 26, 1943, in Vermillion, S.D., her father, Buford, was halfway around the world, aboard the USS Chincoteague. By the time he returned home, his daughter was 14 months old. What he remembers most about her was that she had a mind of her own. Early on, she told people she would be a missionary. In 1948, at the age of 5, she was playing in her front yard in Sioux City, Iowa, when she saw the trolley coming, bringing her father home. She raced across the street to greet him, into the path of an oncoming car. Her ankle and foot were mangled. After that, she limped and wore a metal brace that fit into her shoe, hinged at the ankle, and fastened with a leather strap under her knee. Her injury slowed her down, but kept her from nothing. She graduated in the top 10th of her high school class in Denver and attended Colorado State University.

In the summer of 1963 she was recruited by the CIA. A year later she announced to her parents that she had volunteered for Vietnam. Her father remembers: “I went into her bedroom and sat on her bed and said, Hey, why Vietnam? That’s kind of a mess over there.’ ” His daughter expounded on the “domino theory,” the view that communism would march from one nation to the next. “When they get to West Colfax {a Denver thoroughfare}, mister, you’ll wish you’d done something,” she told him.

On August 5, 1964, six weeks after her 21st birthday, she arrived in Saigon as a CIA secretary in the U.S. Embassy. Her cover was as a State Department employee. But her life in Vietnam was singularly devoid of intrigue. At 10:55 a.m. on Monday, March 30, 1965, a black Citroen sedan was observed parked on a street beside the embassy. A policeman ordered the driver to move on. Shots were fired. On the second floor of the five-story building, Robbins heard the commotion and rushed to the window. At that moment, 250 pounds of explosives detonated in the car. She was killed instantly, impaled by the steel grating that surrounded the window. The bomb left 22 dead and 186 wounded. Robbins was one of two Americans killed.

Among the telegrams read aloud at her funeral was one from Secretary of State Dean Rusk. Another came from President Lyndon Johnson. The city of Denver was staggered. Until then, the war had seemed an abstraction to many. The day after the bombing, the Denver Post’s lead editorial, titled “Embassy Blast Hits Us All,” observed: “The many Denverites who knew Miss Robbins can now have no doubts about the seriousness and the bloodiness of the war in Viet Nam.” Following the attack, U.S. and Vietnamese fighter-bombers unleashed a furious assault against a North Vietnamese air base. It was not, U.S. officials insisted, in reprisal for the previous day’s bombing. Hardly anyone believed them.

In June 1965, Robbins’s parents and brother were flown to Washington to take part in a memorial service at the State Department. Rusk presented them with a posthumous “Secretary’s Award.” Later they were escorted to the CIA, where they dined with Deputy Director Richard Helms and the chief of the Far East Division, William Colby.

Robbins was the youngest person honored with a star at the CIA. Thirty years after her death, in May 1995, her father, Buford, then 73, and mother, Ruth, 77, returned to the agency for a memorial service. They wondered why their daughter’s name was still not inscribed in the Book of Honor. “I asked about that,” says Buford Robbins. “They said certain things had still not been declassified. It’s a little strange. You really don’t know what to think. We are naturally proud of Barbara but at the same time, you feel like you have some questions. I think her name should be in the book.”

 REFERENCES

Women of the CIA — Newsweek

The Mystery of Jane Wallis Burrell: The First CIA Officer To Die in the Agency’s Service — CIA news & Information

Remembering CIA’s Heroes: Barbara A. Robbins — CIA Website

Barbara Robbins: A slain CIA secretary’s life and death — WP

Tribute to Women Who Have Died — STUDIES IN INTELLIGENCE

CIA discloses names of 15 killed in line of duty — LA Times

CIA Holds Annual Memorial Ceremony to Honor Fallen Colleagues — CIA Website

Phyllis (Nancy) FaraciHuman Rights & Democracy for Iran

REAGAN SAYS BLAST WON’T DETER PEACE EFFORTS — NYT 21 April 1983

Memorial Service 1983 — CIA Website

Remembering CIA’s Heroes: Jacqueline K. Van Landingham  — CIA Website

U.S. Seeking 3 Gunmen In Karachi — NYT March 10 1995

Remembering CIA’s Heroes: Leslianne Shedd — CIA Website

LESLIANNE SHEDD, 1968-1996

Keeping Secrets

Osama raid avenged CIA deaths, a secret until now — TODAY

CIA Adds Four Stars to Memorial Wall — CIA website May 21 2006

Khowst – 5 Years Later — Cia Website

Who was Elizabeth Hanson? — COLBY Magazine

Year Later, Some Details Emerge About CIA Officer Killed In Afghanistan — npr

Silent Stars — The Washingtonian

“Zero Dark Thirty” entertaining but inaccurate: ex-CIA agents — Reuters

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Remembering CIA Barbara A. Robbins (July 26, 1943 – March 30, 1965)

Remembering CIA Barbara A. Robbins (July 26, 1943 – March 30, 1965) [2019]

Remembering CIA Barbara A. Robbins (July 26, 1943 – March 30, 1965) [2020 : The Mysterious 1965 Star]

Remembering CIA Barbara A. Robbins (July 26, 1943 – March 30, 1965) [The Enduring Mystery of the Anonymous 1965 Star]

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