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Chris R. “Rick” Zeitner, 80, passed away on Sept. 5, 2023, at Billings Clinic.
He was the oldest of six boys and two girls born to Chris and Gladys (Lewis) Zeitner. Born May 11, 1943, in Tacoma, Washington, where his father was stationed at McChord Army Air Base. Before assignment in the Aleutian Islands, he returned with his mother to her hometown of Opheim six weeks later. Rick grew up in Opheim and spent summers at the family farm northeast of Outlook. He graduated from Opheim High School in 1961, where he had been actively involved in various school, sports and community activities. He attended one year of college at Eastern Montana College (now MSUB) in Billings, where he played football and basketball.
After a summer of working in a foundry for Anaconda Copper Co. in Great Falls and Custom Combining in Opheim and Kansas, he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in February 1963.
Following basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, he studied the Russian language at the Defense Language Institute’s Syracuse University Campus in Syracuse, New York. After completing the language course and various technical schools in Texas and Nevada, he was assigned to the 6988th Security Squadron at Yokota Air Base in Japan (outside Tokyo) from November 1964 to November 1966.
As an aircrew member on RC-130 aircraft, Rick flew on missions throughout the Far East and Southeast Asia. He attended Mountain Survival School at Stead Air Force Base in Reno, Nevada (October 1964), Sea Survival School in Numazu, Japan (1965), and Jungle Survival School at Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines (1966). He often joked that the USAF didn’t send him to Artic Survival School because he was from Opheim and didn’t need it. During his military service, he earned the USAF Air Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, National Defense Service Medal and a Good Conduct Medal, along with a Presidential Unit Citation Award.
Following his honorable discharge in November 1966, Rick returned to Montana and college at Eastern Montana, where he met his wife-to-be, who was studying Nursing at St. Vincent’s School of Nursing. Rick transferred to the University of Montana in September 1967, married Mary Anderson in January 1969, and then worked for Montgomery Ward’s in Yakima, Washington, and Roseburg, Oregon, before returning to the University of Montana, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in political science in 1971.
Rick joined the Central Intelligence Agency in June 1971. From then until his retirement in May 2003, he worked in various Latin American and European countries, in addition to CIA HQS assignments in the Washington, DC, area. After retirement, he worked as an independent contractor for the CIA until moving to the Red Lodge area in August 2007.
During his agency career, Rick earned a number of performance awards and citations. Upon retirement, he was presented with the Career Intelligence Medal and other awards, including the presentation of a U.S. flag that had been flown over the George H.W. Bush Intelligence Center (CIA HQS) the day he retired from the agency (May 31, 2003).
Rick married Mary Louise (Anderson) in Forsyth on Jan. 4, 1969. They were married for 35 years before she passed away from cancer in July 2004. They were the proud parents of three beautiful daughters and one handsome son: Heidi Marie, Heather Lee, Samantha Lynn and Derik Lewis. He is survived by his children, Heidi (Archer) Carr of Richmond, Virginia, Heather (Chris) Mattus of Herndon, Virginia, Samantha (Dave) Janesian of Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey, and Derik Zeitner of Ashburn, Virginia. There are also the grandchildren: Freddy, Erika and Harry Carr; Ryan, Andy and Logan Mattus.
In addition to his beloved wife, Mary, he was preceded in death by his parents, Chris and Gladys Zeitner; and brother Kerry Zeitner. He is survived by his six siblings: Mike (Carol) Zeitner, Doug (Lois) Zeitner, Randy Zeitner, Jo Claire (Paul) Roney, Jeff Zeitner and Christy (Jeff) Meyer, along with numerous nieces, nephews and close cousins, most of whom live in and around Montana.
He was a life member of the VFW Post 8241 in McLean, Virginia, and the American Legion Post 105. He was also a member of “CIRA,” an association of retired CIA officers.
Memorial service will be at 1 p.m. Friday, Sept. 15, at Michelotti-Sawyers Mortuary, 1001 Alderson Ave.
“Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow;
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain;
I am the gentle autumn’s rain.
When you awaken in the morning hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft star that shines at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry.
I am not there; I did not die.”