This is the second in a series of profiles about Bureau of Diplomatic Security employees, contractors, military personnel, and host nation security personnel who lost their lives providing a secure environment for the conduct of American diplomacy.
Currently, 137 individuals have made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty throughout the Bureau’s 100-year history. They are honored on the Diplomatic Security Memorial at DS headquarters in Arlington, Virginia. For more information, visit www.dsmemorial.state.gov.
In a park dedicated to his memory in Dorchester, Massachusetts, a granite plaque honors DSS Special Agent Daniel Emmett O’Connor, a native son. The plaque is but a small tribute to the life and untimely death of the special agent who was one of 259 passengers killed aboard Pan Am Flight 103 in a terrorist bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, on December 21, 1988.
Among others killed in the crash were Dan’s colleague and fellow DSS Special Agent Ronald Lariviere and Matthew Gannon, the latter a political officer in Beirut and brother of DSS Special Agent Richard Gannon. Dan was survived by his mother, Helen O’Connor, and his father, Daniel O’Connor, Sr., who died in 2007, and three sisters.
During a eulogy at Fort Myer Chapel on January 9, 1989, DSS Special Agent John Hampson quoted a cable sent by U.S. Ambassador to Cyprus Bill Perrin about Daniel O’Connor: “We are proud of Dan. It is because of him and others like him that we enjoy our freedoms in America today. America does not and will not forget its heroes.”
Hampson, who was his classmate in the DSS Special Agent Class 31 of 1987, remembers his friend as a man who loved his work, someone with an intense desire to contribute.
“I first met Dan in September 1986 when 48 strangers began training to eventually become special agents. The time that all of us spent with Dan during training produced many highlights. It is these that we remember best. It is the pride Dan felt by first becoming a special agent candidate, followed by becoming proficient in marksmanship, methods of protection, and criminal investigations. Most of all, I remember the pride he exhibited the day he graduated from training and received his gold shield and credentials. Dan had become a special agent.”
Hampson recalled that after training, Dan and others were assigned to the Washington Field Office and, within a few months, Dan, who held a degree in engineering, became aware of a new construction security program. He quickly volunteered for an assignment as the site security manager in Sana’a, Yemen Arab Republic.
“I remember when he returned and I asked him about the job and the hardships. All Dan wanted to talk about was the job,” said Hampson. “To him, the hardships were less than secondary to his professional experience because to Dan, what he did was important, not where he did it. When Dan told me about his duties in Sana’a, I could sense the pride he felt about contributing to the overall goals of the State Department. Dan’s intense desire to contribute led him to become site security manager in Nicosia, where his personal and professional accomplishments will always be remembered.”
Dan’s sister, Catherine Thurbide, recalls that her brother was interested in law enforcement from an early age. “Danny always wanted to follow in our father’s footsteps—dad was a Boston police officer.” She noted that Dan became interested in building construction, majored in civil engineering, but “the call to law enforcement was always in the back of his mind.”“I believe the special agents from the State Department (Boston Field Office) used the Boston police range for practice shooting, and our dad was in charge of the range at that time,” said Catherine. “That would have been how he knew about the job (Diplomatic Security). Then there was a need for civil engineers to build secure embassies—and the rest you know.”
Another colleague from Special Agent Class 31 remembers Dan as someone who had great potential. “I always wonder what could have been in terms of Dan’s future—both career-wise and personally,” said retired DSS Special Agent Bruce Warren. “He came to DS with a unique background in engineering and architecture—and with dedication and enthusiasm he successfully took on a lot of responsibility early on.”
Hampson recalled that Dan was uniquely qualified as a DSS special agent because of his engineering background—and was actually one of the first DS site security managers.
Today, the memory of Dan O’Connor lives on through a special U.S. Department of State award—the Daniel O’Connor Site Security Manager of the Year award—presented throughout the world to the State Department’s top site security manager.