In early 2008, I was sitting in a nondescript classroom along with about 30 other spy or spy support wannabes, learning all about the CIA, its history, and what roles we might play in the world’s premier intelligence agency. I was a bit nervous, as it was my first week, and after listening to others talk about their former lives as everything from PR specialists to lawyers to the full spectrum of the special operations community, I was not so sure that I fit in or measured up.

Then, in walked one of our instructors. He was middle-aged and friendly, but with his balding head, glasses, and short stature, was completely unassuming. He held a box full of books, and as he passed them out, he said not a word. When there was finally one in front of each of us, he picked one up, looked at it for a second, then looked at us and said, “This is us, this is me, and this will soon be you. Each of you will research and report on one of the names in this book, and I am betting you that once you do, you will never forget them or why they are in here.” I had already looked at the book’s cover and knew basically what it was about, but it was not until years later that the impact of the words inside, as well as the words of the instructor, would come full circle.

The Book of Honor: The Secret Lives and Deaths of CIA Operatives,” written by Ted Gup, is a 384-page, emotional and incredibly well-written collection of stories based on the lives and deaths of some of the names inscribed in “The Book.” Those names are on display on the CIA’s Memorial Wall at all times. The Book contains the names of employees who died while serving their country, and each name is next to a 23-carat gold-leaf star. To protect intelligence sources and methods, the names of some of those officers on The Wall must remain secret, even in death.

Each of these officers is remembered in The Book by only a gold star, with no name present. Gup’s reason for researching and writing his book was pure happenstance. He walked into CIA headquarters in February 1991, during the first Gulf War, to interview an analyst familiar with Iraq. While waiting to be escorted inside, he studied the wall and The Book. He asked some questions, and even though he received a fair amount of “Can’t tell you that,” most of what he was told moved him and led to his writings.

CIA Memorial Wall
CIA Memorial Wall (Photo Courtesy:

One of the intelligence officers immortalized in The Book and on the wall, and the officer that I chose to write about, was Larry Freedman. Many have been described as larger than life, but Larry Freedman epitomized it. He was described by those who knew him as both a fierce warrior and a teddy bear, one who would end boyhood fights ruthlessly, then help the other guy up and dust him off. He loved motorcycles, and while in college at Kansas State University, would regularly hop on his bike and ride from Kansas to Philadelphia “Just to get a milkshake,” and then drive back 45 minutes later. He earned the moniker “Superjew” for his willingness to push himself to the limit and his devotion to his Jewish faith. He soon flunked out of college, but on September 30, 1965, he found his path when he enlisted in the United States Army.

Freedman volunteered for training as a medic, and volunteered again to become what he considered to be the best of the best: a Special Forces soldier. He excelled at his chosen profession, and would go on to win two Bronze Stars, a Purple Heart, numerous Good Conduct Medals, the Humanitarian Service Medal, the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, and numerous others from his time ranging from Vietnam to when he entered service with the CIA.

His entry is one still shrouded in mystery. In March of 1978, Freedman was selected as a member of Special Forces Operational Detachment—Delta, the so-called Delta Force. He initially trained as an assaulter, then made the cut to attend the coveted sniper course, at which he excelled. He undertook covert missions in the Middle and Far East, and most of them are still classified. He participated in the ill-fated inaugural mission for Delta, Operation Eagle Claw, the effort to rescue the hostages being held at the U.S. embassy in Iran. The decision to abort the mission, the tragic accident, and the loss of close friends and teammates took a heavy toll on him.

In 1982, Freedman left Delta, but continued his Army career. Some parts of his record are murky, listing him as “infantryman (special project)” and a year later, “special projects team member.” By December 1984, Freedman was made noncommissioned officer in charge of the Special Forces Interdiction Course, where he trained Delta and other Special Forces teams advanced marksmanship, camouflage, stalking, and “delivering precision rifle fire in support of special operations.” He later left the training group and taught in the classroom at the Sergeant Major’s Academy at Fort Bliss, Texas before returning to Fort Bragg’s John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School as a sergeant major and instructor. He longed to get back into the field, but at age 49, even with his skill set, he was turned down by agencies like the DEA. Freedman, used to excelling and being the “go to guy,” was crushed.