Philip Roettinger graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University and later served as a US Marine colonel in the Pacific during World War II. After the war, Roettinger worked for a time as a photographer and then joined the CIA as an operations officer. He was involved in the planning and execution of the 1954 overthrow of the left-wing Guatemalan government led by Jacobo Arbenz after it had threatened to nationalize property owned by the United Fruit Company. Roettinger later wrote of his mission that it was a mistake and he regretted it. After his retirement as a CIA operative, Roettinger moved to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico where he devoted his free time to painting portraits and landscapes.