Correction: An earlier version of this obituary incorrectly reported that Mr. Wheeler retired from USATrex International in 1997 and that he had worked for the CIA for 34 years. He retired from USATrex International in 1990 and had worked for the CIA for 30 years. The article has been corrected.
James L. Wheeler, 86, a former CIA deputy director of finance who retired in 1990 as vice president at USATrex International, an intelligence contractor, died Nov. 20 at his home in Falls Church.
He had squamous-cell skin cancer, said his daughter, Suzanne Wheeler Klein.
Mr. Wheeler served in the CIA directorate of administration from 1951 to 1981 and was a member of the Senior Intelligence Service. He served 12 years in the Far East and France.
He was involved in several of the agency’s covert operations, including a mission in which he helped recover hundreds of “bail out” kits that had been buried during World War II across Germany to aide downed pilots. These kits were commonly filled with gold coins that would allow Allied crew members to “buy” their way back to safety.
After retiring from the CIA as deputy director of finance for liaisons plans and systems, he became vice president of USATrex International.
James Lewis Wheeler was a native of San Gabriel, Calif., and a 1951 graduate of Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. He received a master’s degree in the technology of management from American University in 1973.
He worked as a media consultant for Klein Communications, his daughter’s public relations firm. He spoke regularly about his Marine Corps service during World War II and his participation in the battle of Iwo Jima, providing oral histories for museums and documentaries.
He told a Marine Corps publication he was a forward observer on top of Mount Suribachi — at the island’s summit — for the first 10 days of the invasion in February 1945. Iwo Jima was one of the fiercest battles of the Pacific and a turning point against the Japanese.
His honors included the CIA Intelligence Medal of Merit.
He was a member of the American Legion and St. John the Beloved Catholic Church, both in McLean. He enjoyed gardening.
Survivors include his wife of 46 years, Mary Patricia “Pat” Wheeler of Falls Church; his daughter, Suzanne Wheeler Klein of Reston; and three grandsons.
— Megan McDonough