As a former Special Forces soldier, I love reading books about the Special Operations Forces of not only the United States but other countries as well. But after devouring everything I could get my hands on about Special Forces during the Vietnam war especially those men from SOG some of whom trained me when I was a young pup, I went in search of the beginnings of SF.

Both Special Forces and the Central Intelligence Agency owe their direct lineage to the OSS, (Office of Strategic Services) that was started from scratch just before the United States entered World War II and by war’s end had over 10,000 men and women in their ranks. They became the war’s intelligence gathering, espionage, unconventional warfare, sabotage and subversion experts in just a few short years.

Working in close cooperation with the British, OSS patterned their organization from the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) and many of the later leaders of both Special Forces and CIA came from the OSS ranks.

After graduating and teaching in-house from the Special Warfare Center’s Advanced Special Operations Techniques course, I tried to learn everything possible about our predecessors “the Glorious Amateurs” as they were called who comprised the Jedburgh Teams and the Operational Groups that were textbook definitions of what our UW training called for. But what about the leader of the OSS?  Who was William Donovan?

Douglas Waller’s intensive biography of William “Wild Bill” Donovan who rose from humble beginnings to be a successful lawyer, a World War I hero with the 42nd ‘Rainbow’ Division and later became the head of the OSS (Office of Strategic Services)is a fantastic read.

Donovan was born to poor Irish-American parents and worked his way from poor beginnings to a law degree from Columbia Law School where one of his classmates was the future President of the US Franklin Delano Roosevelt and married into a wealthy Protestant family.

During World War I, Donovan served mainly with the storied New York “Fighting 69th” mainly Irish Regiment. He was a cool customer under fire and his men loved him and that is where he got the nickname “Wild Bill” for his courage under fire. His closest friend in the Regiment, Father Francis Duffy, was his chaplain and the poet Joyce Kilmer his adjutant. He was awarded the Medal of Honor and the French Croix de Guerre for his heroism in France.