CIA honorees are New England heroes, cited at last

John Downey (left) and Richard Fecteau endured two decades of captivity in China.
CIA Office of Public Affairs
John Downey (left) and Richard Fecteau endured two decades of captivity in China.

The recent ceremony honoring two CIA officers who were imprisoned in China for nearly two decades was a reminder of the silent sacrifices that members of the intelligence community make, with little public appreciation in return. While soldiers are rightly celebrated for risking death and capture while serving their country, intelligence officers who face similar dangers rarely receive similar celebrations. That’s why it is fitting that Richard Fecteau, of Lynn, and John T. Downey, of New Haven, finally received the Intelligence Cross, a CIA award “for a voluntary act or acts of extraordinary heroism involving the acceptance of existing dangers with conspicuous fortitude and exemplary courage.”

Fecteau, now 86, and Downey, now 83, were shot down over China in 1952 while trying to pick up an agent who had promised information to the CIA. They were captured and held in Chinese prisons for nearly two decades, while the US government denied that they were spies. Amid improving relations between the United States and China, they were released in the early 1970s. The years they missed with their loved ones can never be returned. But, at a time when the American public’s image of espionage is dominated by negative revelations from Edward Snowden, this award provides a glimpse of the brave men and women who serve their country silently, without the expectation of public acknowledgement. Most of their names will never be known.