Little Bits of History

May 6

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 6, 2017

1996: William Colby’s body is found. Colby was born in Saint Paul, Minnesota in 1920. The family had a history of military service and his father was a career officer in the US Army. He was an English professor after his military retirement. He was raised Roman Catholic and morality was a core belief he upheld throughout his adult life. He was studying at Columbia when he volunteered for active duty in the United States Army in 1941. He was assigned to the Office of Strategic Services as a special operator. He trained to work with resistance forces in occupied Europe. He served in this capacity until the war ended and he then returned to Columbia Law School to complete his degree.

He worked for a private New York law firm, grew bored, and moved to Washington, D.C. and worked for the National Labor Relations Board. An old Army friend offered Colby a job in the CIA. He worked in the field for twelve years. His first assignment was in Sweden and he then moved to Italy. In 1959 he became the CIA’s deputy chief and then chief of station in Saigon, South Vietnam where he served until 1962. He then returned to Washington, D.C. to head up the CIA’s Far East Division. In 1968 he was sent back to Vietnam rather than being assigned to the Soviet Bloc Division. His policies to “win hearts and minds” rather than “search and destroy” remained part of the Far East policy into this millennium.

Colby returned to Washington in 1971 and became the executive director of the CIA. President Nixon moved some of his key people around and this left Colby in the role of Director of Central Intelligence, a post he held from September 3, 1973 until January 30, 1976. He served under Nixon and President Ford. He was replaced by George HW Bush. His time with the Agency was marked by strife both internally and externally. He advocated for many reforms within the CIA and attempted to modernize some of the procedures. The world stage was rife with conflict during his tenure including the unforeseen and abrupt start of the Yon Kippur War. When he was replaced, Colby was offered a position with NATO but declined.

He and two partners founded a law firm dealing with public policy issues in 1977. He also wrote two books after leaving the CIA. On April 27, 1996 he left his weekend home in Rock Point, Maryland for a solo canoe trip. His abandoned canoe was located the following day but his body was not discovered until this day where it was found about 35 feet away face down in a marshy river bank. His death was ruled accidental. There were allegations of foul play but none has been substantiated. His own son, Carl, suggested that his father may have committed suicide, regretting some of his actions as a CIA operative. This has also been deemed unlikely. He probably died from a heart attack combined with hypothermia after falling from his canoe. He was 76 at the time of his death.

We disbanded our intelligence [after both world wars] and then found we needed it. Let’s not go through that again. Redirect it, reduce the amount of money spent, but let’s not destroy it. Because you don’t know 10 years out what you’re going to face. – William Colby

The more we know about each other the safer we all are. – William Colby to Leonid Brezhnev

South Vietnam faces total defeat, and soon. – William Colby

That was my victory parade. – William Colby as he walked alone, unfollowed, through Red Square in 1989, after the end of the Cold War

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