NORFOLK – Recently, the Central Intelligence Agency declassified a school garden re-dedication from 1979 in Norfolk, Virginia, as part of many hundreds of other documents. I happened upon this 1979 invitation to the dedication of the Alex Kiehl Garden by just using the word “Norfolk” as a search term. As I read the invitation, I wondered how on earth the C.I.A. kept information on my school’s student council? And what was the larger story?
The dedication was at Norfolk Academy, my preparatory school, on Sunday, Oct. 7, 1979. The handwritten invitation reads thus:
The Tunstall Student Council invites you to attend the dedication of the Norfolk Academy Memorial Garden, which is being established in memory of Alex Kiehl. The ceremony dedicating the Kiehl Garden will take place on Sunday afternoon, October 7, at one o’clock in the courtyard of the May Library.
It turns out the invitation, sent to Mrs. Turner (obviously Mrs. Stansfield Turner, wife of then CIA director Stansfield Turner) and written in perfect prep school cursive, was obviously issued by the students themselves. The CIA notes it was received Oct. 1, 1979. The invite was sent to Turner’s first wife Patricia; his second, Eli Karin Gilbert Turner, died in a plane accident in Costa Rica. The later divorce was public news because in 1986, the Associated Press reported on a lawsuit between Adm. Turner and his daughter over the divorce.
That Mrs. Turner might have been invited is no surprise. Kiehl was from a distinguished Navy family, and Alex Kiehl had died in 1978 in a tragic car-jacking at Georgia Tech where he was simply at the wrong place at the wrong time. His father, the late Cpt. Elmer Hill Kiehl, was a distinguished and dashing Navy officer who commanded the Naval Amphibious School in Little Creek, Va., among many other assignments.
Kiehl was a great athlete, student and lacrosse player at Norfolk Academy, and the death in his freshman college year took everyone as a major shock. While a few years younger, I remembered him well as one of those older students with a sort of star power, though the details of the tragedy were only vague. Looking back, it tells how promise and youth can be quickly lost.
Meanwhile, the invitation lives in the C.I.A.’s online Reading Room archives, forever preserved as evidence of how evil acts can touch so many lives. It is one of many hundreds of fascinating pieces of Hampton Roads history in the archive including:
- A letter to Gordon Harper of Virginia Beach’s Hoff Cadillac, thanking him for personally delivering his new car to Stansfield Turner.
- A 1970 leave request from George A. Carver, asking for time to sail the Chesapeake Bay and visit Sandbridge, Virginia Beach, for rest time. Carver, a distinguished C.I.A. officer with extensive Vietnam expertise, was notably a witness at the successful libel trial of Gen. William Westmoreland.
- Telepathy research the C.I.A. was doing in January of 1989 to ask a person to describe a section of the Busch Gardens theme park through ESP. Really. The idea was was to research whether Edgar Cayce-like extra sensory perception could assist spying. The files of the project, called Sun Streak and Stargate, are all online, and are endlessly fascinating.
Alex Kiehl is still remembered at Norfolk Academy, where an annual award is given in his honor. His mother, Aroostine Kiehl, died in February, 2016, in time to see Georgia Tech unveil stands in his honor, the Alexander G. Kiehl Stands.
Below, a video of his life and compiled by Georgia Tech, where his memory is still celebrated. The story is proof that decency and honor, over time, can take away but some of the pain inflicted by dark acts.