Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Frank Gardiner Wisner ~ The Education of a Covert Agent

Frank Gardiner Wisner was born and grew up in Laurel, Mississippi. His family owned the town of less than 20,000 people when he left there for a Virginia Episcopal prep school around 1925 or so. For whatever reason he didn’t go to Lawrenceville, like his cousin Gardiner Green, he turned out well enough by going to Woodberry Forest, then on to Charlottesville to the University of Virginia and its law school. 

The Old Boys: The American Elite and the Origins of the CIAWhen Burton Hersh wrote his tale of the early days of the CIA, called The Old Boys, he interviewed one or more family members of Wisner’s who led him to write the following:

At this juncture Wisner's promise as a track athlete peaked; he'd placed quite high in shakedown meets around the Southeast Conference, and so was invited onto the U.S squad in training for the Berlin Olympics in 1936....Frank George saw no percentage in fooling away a summer with time trials, and directed his only son to forget collegiate sidelines and get into something. The disappointed young athlete looked hard for work in New Orleans, got no bids, and trooped along to Wall Street, where Woodberry Forrest [sic] classmates helped snag him a trainee berth at Carter, Ledyard and Milburn, attorney to the Stock Exchange, where Franklin Roosevelt practiced. (p. 192)

We are guessing Hersh didn’t look further into what he was told, or he may have discovered something incredibly disturbing about what happened next. Perhaps his sources were only repeating what Frank had told them about job-searching in New Orleans, but public immigration records tell a much different story.

The first thing he did after law school was travel to Cuba in August, 1934 on the Zacapa with a couple from Charlottesville, Franklin Butler Lord, Jr. and his young wife Louise Blagden Lord, who had married in a celebratory fashion in 1932: 

New York Times, 15 Jun 1932
The wedding announcement revealed that they were to live in Charlottesville while the groom, Franklin Butler Lord, Jr., continued his studies at the law school there--the same law school from which Frank Gardiner Wisner graduated in 1934, followed by the trip to Havana, Cuba with the Lords. So much for Wisner seeking work in New Orleans! Was it a lie he had told his family, who then shared it with Hersh, or was Hersh misleading us for some reason? Either way, we know it was untrue. Wisner spent that time during the summer of 1934, not in New Orleans, but in Cuba.

Read Part 2

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