History Wars Cold War

Today in history: The ‘Ice Cream Spy’ dies a mysterious death

Jessica Evans Avatar
Hugh Francis Redmond, the ice cream spy

Hugh Francis Redmond might not be a household name, but his courage, resilience and loyalty make him an unsung hero – and not just in the world of espionage. As those who know his story pause today to reflect on his death, let’s take the opportunity to explore his remarkable life. Redmond gathered intelligence during the Cold War as a CIA operative. He then served a 19-year prison term in communist China, never once revealing his true identity.

Early life and military service

Redmond was born on November 29, 1925, in Yonkers, New York. Raised in a working-class Irish-American family, he learned the value of hard work and dedication. When World War II threatened global peace, Redmond eagerly enlisted in the United States Army.

In 1942, Redmond joined the Army and became a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne Division. He fought in the legendary Normandy campaign and survived intense combat in France and Holland. For his efforts, he earned both the Silver and Bronze Star medals for his bravery. After returning home, Redmond’s thirst for adventure led him to join the OSS, the precursor to the CIA.

Espionage career with the CIA

The CIA required skilled operatives for undercover work in China, and Redmond’s Chinese language skills made him the perfect candidate. As a member of the Special Activities Division, he went to Shanghai in 1946. There, he posed as an ice cream machine salesman. Unbeknownst to many, he was gathering intelligence on Communist activities in China.

hugh francis redmond
Hugh Francis Redmond in 1943.

Capture, imprisonment and mysterious death

In 1951, Redmond’s luck ran out. Several fellow operatives were captured but allowed to go home; however, Chinese authorities apprehended him as he prepared to leave the country. Betrayed by his Russian girlfriend, he was tried and sentenced to a Chinese prison on espionage charges. The identity of the Russian woman and the nature of their relationship remain unknown.

Despite enduring extreme torture, Redmond never cracked, protecting his contacts and operations at all costs. He gained the respect of inmates and some guards during his 19-year imprisonment. Tragically, on April 13, 1970, he died from alleged “self-inflicted injuries” at the age of fifty. The true nature of his death remains a mystery. His epitaph at a Yonkers cemetery reads, “His Country Above All Else.”

Legacy and commemoration

Hugh Francis Redmond’s story exemplifies the sacrifices made by countless unsung heroes who serve their country. In his home tome, of Yonkers, a monument stands in his honor. Adding to that, Ted Gup’s The Book of Honor names Redmond as one of 42 covert operatives represented by etched stars on the CIA’s Wall of Honor.

Located at the CIA’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia, the Wall of Honor features a series of stars representing fallen CIA officers. Currently, there are 135 stars on the wall, symbolizing the lives lost in the line of duty. Many of the officers’ names remain classified. However, the accompanying Book of Honor lists some of the deceased or represents them by a star followed by a blank space.

Special Activities Center (SAC)

The SAC, an elite division within the CIA, is responsible for high-stakes covert operations, intelligence gathering, reconnaissance, and unconventional warfare. Forming from the merger of the agency’s Special Activities Division and the Special Operations Group, it plays a vital role in protecting American interests both domestically and internationally.

Consequently, these unsung heroes carry out high-stakes missions with little recognition or fanfare, often facing immense personal risk. Their tireless efforts in the name of national security exemplify the dedication and bravery required of operatives in the CIA’s most secretive and elite division.

Hugh Francis Redmond’s life serves as an inspiring testament to the sacrifices and unwavering commitment made by countless unknown espionage heroes. His story offers a glimpse into the secretive world of the CIA and the exceptional individuals who work behind the scenes to protect our nation. As we remember and honor Redmond, we should also recognize and appreciate the ongoing efforts of the many operatives who continue to serve in the shadows, dedicated to the safety and security of the United States.