“Helping my fellow man in this great country seems to be the best possible way of showing my gratitude,” Colonel Jerry Sage writes in the epilogue to his memoir. Steve McQueen’s character Virgil Hilts, better known as the “Cooler King,” in The Great Escape was based on Sage.

Colonel Sage spent World War II with the OSS, the forerunner organization of the CIA, and the U.S. Army’s Special Forces. Sage would later serve in Special Forces and command the 10th Special Forces Group (10th SFG) in Bad Tolz, Germany. 

Sage was born in British Columbia, Canada, and was selling housewares when the war began. During the early days of WWII, he volunteered for the new, shadowy unit, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), commanded by William “Wild Bill” Donovan, who had been awarded the Medal of Honor during the First World War

OSS’s mission was to “collect information, conduct research, and analysis, coordinate information, print, and broadcast propaganda, conduct special operations, inspire guerrilla action, and send commandos into battle.”