Paying a long, overdue tribute to a Buffalo FBI agent from the 1940's

May 17, 2012

The FBI in Buffalo unveils a dedication Thursday to a special agent who died some 69-years ago in a plane crash.  

30-year-old Harold Haberfeld was on a special mission for the Buffalo FBI office when the plane he was onboard exploded in a South American jungle. 

WBFO & AM-970’s Eileen Buckley says the local FBI office recently learned of Haberfeld and has prepared an overdue tribute.

It was 1943,  World War II raged on.  J. Edgar Hoover was leading the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  A time when the FBI was watched for counter-intelligence and sympathizers of the opposition forces.

Special agent Haberfeld  had only been serving about six-month as a Buffalo agent.  On  January 15, 1943 he boarded an American transport plane on a special mission.  He spoke three languages, Spanish, French and German.

"He goes on a mission with an AD, an assistant director out of New York.  In 1943 they fly to Guiana, and their plane actually explodes over the jungles," said Earl Gould, Supervisory Special Agent for the Buffalo FBI.

Gould was researching agents to be honored for a new electronic honor wall discovering the story of Haberfeld

"I was surprised, because when I came to Buffalo," said Gould.  "I always heard Buffalo never lost an agent.  He was in fact assigned here."

Gould is seeking details of the special mission Haberfeld's assigned.

"He was going to interview somebody. He  knew the terian. He spoke German," said Gould.

"The FBI has a long heritage of of national service.  You can see it spans back to World War  II.  And you can see in this instance, I believe, it was General Eisenhower who made the request to director Hoover at the time for assistance," said  Christopher Piehota, Special Agent In Charge of the Buffalo FBI.

How Haberfeld died is the reason he wasn't added to the FBI's long standing Wall of Martyrs honoring agents who died in conflict.

"In this instance, it wasn't sabotage. It looked like mechanical failure.  And he did loose it in the line of duty, but it wasn't director combat or adverse action," said Piehota.

Agent Gould reflects on news clippings from 1943 indicating director Hoover attended a memorial for Haberfeld.

"What director Hoover actually said was he (Haberfeld) had all the markings of having a brilliant career," said Gould.

"There are many heres in the past that we don't know about," said  Edward Cosgrove, former FBI agent, sworn in  in by Hoover in 1960.  Cosgrove never worked for the Buffalo FBI.  Cosgrove is best known as a Buffalo lawyer.  He served as the former Erie County District Attorney.  Cosgrove reflects on Haberfield's work with the FBI and the decades that have past without knowing his story, comparing it to many unknown war heroes.

"So many others, that left their homes and universities during World War II that left and never came back," said Cosgrove.

President Franklin Roosevelt wore a black arm band while attending the Casablanca Conference in Morocco in 1943 to honor the 35 who died in the crash.  Many on the flight with Haberfeld were also government workers. 

Nancy Nolf is a long-serving government employee in Buffalo.  She's been working in communications with the FBI for 43-years,  making her the longest Buffalo FBI employee.

But this was the first time she learned of agent Haberfeld's story.

"I was very surprised.  I think that it's wonderful they are finally celebrating his duty in Buffalo," said Nolf. 

Nolf  who started her local work with the FBI at the former downtown federal building said that is where Haberfeld would have worked and remembered how the office was structured.

"They were all in one long room," said Nolf 517-Nancy-1

Agent Gould noted there appears to be no living relatives left of Haberfeld's. But a representative from Geneva College, where Haberheld graduated, will appear at Thursday's dedication ceremony in Buffalo.

"There's nobody left to remain him," said Gould.  "I think it is important for us to take a step back and actually do something," said Gould.  Every day somebody will walk by that plague that we dedicate and they will say Harold Haberfeld, the guy who is from Buffalo.  So there is a whole generation of agents that is going to know that story.  It's worth doing,"