A bill making its way through the U.S. Congress is seeking to bestow Congressional Gold Medal status on the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the World War II predecessor to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM). On June 13, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 69 creating the OSS, and named William J. Donovan as its director. Donovan was a World War I Medal of Honor recipient and the only American to receive the nation’s four highest military decorations.
The Office of Strategic Services Congressional Gold Medal Act (H.R. 3929) will honor the 13,000 men and women who served in the OSS with the highest civilian honor bestowed by Congress. The OSS recruited its personnel from every branch of the U.S. military and the civilian population. They included some of the most decorated and noted personalities from within America’s 20th century intelligence and military establishment. Some included:
Colonel Peter Ortiz, a Marine and two-time Navy Cross recipient;
Virginia Hall, the only civilian female to receive the Distinguished Service Cross during World War II;
Ralph Bunche, the first person of color to receive the Nobel Peace Prize;
James Donovan, the OSS general counsel who was played by Tom Hanks in “Bridge of Spies”;
Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg;
“French Chef” Julia Child;
Fred Mayer, the real “Inglorious Basterd,” who was nominated for the Medal of Honor;
actor and U.S. Marine Sterling Hayden, who received a Silver Star and served in the OSS Maritime Unit, the predecessor to the U.S. Navy SEALs;
Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients Moe Berg and Marlene Dietrich (who recorded songs for the OSS Morale Operations Branch);
and four future CIA directors: William Colby, William Casey, Allen Dulles, and Richard Helms.
The OSS gathered intelligence that was critical to the success of D-Day and the invasions of North Africa and Southern France during World War II. Its Research and Analysis Branch recruited America’s leading academics for the war effort. General Donovan said OSS personnel performed “some of the bravest acts of the war,” though almost all remained classified for decades. Many members went behind enemy lines on some of the most dangerous missions of the war.
The “Carpetbaggers,” the air arm of the OSS, flew unescorted and unarmed B-24s to deliver supplies and personnel behind enemy lines. The OSS also undertook what is often called one of the greatest rescue mission of World War II, Operation HALYARD. Over 400 U.S. soldiers and airmen, and 80 allied personnel, were rescued over the course of the operation, which was carried out in cooperation with Serbian Chetnik partisans in occupied Yugoslavia.
At the end of the war, the OSS launched “mercy missions” to rescue thousands of Allied prisoners of war in Japan and elsewhere. It also organized, supplied, and led resistance movements, created new technologies, and devised innovative ways to wage psychological warfare. It ultimately laid the foundation for the present day intelligence and special operations communities in the United States.
The Senate bill, which was introduced by Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) and Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO), was passed in February 2016. The House bill, which was introduced by Rep. Bob Latta (R-OH), has 212 co-sponsors. According to an OSS Society press release, the bill needs 78 more co-sponsors before it can be taken up in committee and passed by the full House of Representatives.
Charles Pinck, president of The OSS Society, said that he was “very hopeful the bill will be passed and signed into law this year so that it can be presented next year to mark the 75th anniversary of the OSS’ founding.” Reports also indicate the society plans in the near future to build a museum in Virginia, near Dulles Airport, that will honor the OSS.
If you are interested, and want to support passage of the OSS Gold Medal Act, you can ask your congressperson to co-sponsor the Office of Strategic Services Congressional Gold Medal Act (HR 3929). Do so here.
(Photo courtesy of The OSS Society. Pictured is General William Donovan, along with members of the OSS Operational Groups. The photo was taken at Congressional Country Club, an OSS training facility.)