In episode 284 of the Big Picture, “The Lodge Act Soldier” screened in 1954 to inform the American public that they are now locked in a political, economic, and psychological struggle with the communist menace, a war the likes of which the US military had never been confronted with before. To that end, and to secure victory in this “Cold War”, the narrator tells the viewer that, “Senator Henry Cabot Lodge sponsored the Alien Enlistee Program of 1950, now generally called the ‘Lodge Act.’ Under the provisions of this legislation, political refugees from any country behind the Iron Curtain were given the opportunity of enlisting in the United States Army for a period of five years.”
The film continues on to introduce Sergeant Ritter, of the Ukraine, and Corporal Kalkevich of Poland. Colonel Aaron Banks also wrote about the “Lodge Bill” in his book “From OSS to Green Berets: The Birth of Special Forces.” The idea behind the Lodge Act was to create a sort of American foreign legion, the ultimate Unconventional Warfare unit made up of men who defected from the USSR and its satellite states. With their in-depth knowledge of enemy nations and foreign language capabilities, they could be trained in Infantry and Ranger tactics before having their skills polished with instruction in sabotage and other forms of Unconventional Warfare. This was the sort of thing that Colonel Banks had some first hand knowledge in, of course, from his experience in the Second World War with the Jedburgh teams.
Colonel Volckmann, Colonel Banks, and General McClure were busy establishing the Special Operations Division and creating a permanent Unconventional Warfare capability within the US Army while we were still in a shooting war in Korea. However, they had their sights set on developing UW for another purpose: fighting against the USSR in Europe. This was still the infancy of Special Forces though—at the time the only UW training was a “course in guerrilla warfare [that] was set up after a series of conferences in 1949 between the Army and the CIA had led to the selection of Fort Benning as the site for a training course desired by the CIA” (Paddock 120).
The idea of creating foreign units within the US military was studied by the Special Operations Division, with the idea of standing up Ranger Companies, each of which would be composed of a different nationality. These platoons could be used as aggressor-forces-in-training, and used to teach American soldiers guerrilla tactics. This idea was later discarded in favor of using Lodge Act soldiers as combat soldiers and saboteurs in Europe in the event that the Cold War went hot.
“Standards of selection were established, and a goal of 800 set for persons who would volunteer for airborne training and who also possessed specialities related to the conduct of guerrilla warfare. The mission of these aliens would be to organize guerrilla bands in Eastern Europe after war began and attack the Soviet lines of communication, their purpose being to slow, or ‘retard’, the Soviet advance into Western Europe. Plans were under development to train these personnel in increments of 100, in a cycle that included basic combat training, completion of the Ranger course at Fort Benning, and then further specialized instruction in guerrilla warfare, sabotage, clandestine communications, and related subjects” (Pollack 124).
One interesting technicality was that Lodge Act soldiers couldn’t really swear allegiance to America as they were not citizens, so consideration was given to the idea that they could swear allegiance to their new Army unit like members of the French Foreign Legion did. It would be interesting to uncover how this really played out. In the Big Picture episode there is a dramatic re-enactment of a swearing in of Lodge Act soldiers that shows them swearing allegiance to the United States of America.
Sponsored by Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., the Lodge Act was aimed at recruiting thousands of foreigners from communist nations into the US Army. The initiative fell short and only brought 211 men from Eastern European nations into US Army uniforms by 1952. Some Lodge Act soldiers were even brought on board as Green Berets.
Perhaps the most well known Lodge Act Green Beret was Larry Thorne, previously profiled by Mike Perry here on SOFREP. Larry served in the Nazi’s elite, the SS in his home country of Finland as they fought against the Russian invasion during the Winter War. A somewhat suspect story of how Larry made his way to America and eventually into the US Army exists. One way or the other, he was eventually picked up and noticed for his talents. Larry completed his Special Forces training and was assigned to 10th SFG in 1958 in Germany. It is this author’s belief that the role of the Special Forces soldiers in Bad Tölz, Germany cannot be over-emphasized in Post-WWII covert and clandestine operations.
Larry Thorne also participated in locating a downed American C-130 aircraft in Iran in 1962. He then served with Special Forces in Vietnam. The helicopter he was in crashed in Laos in 1965 and Larry was listed as MIA until his remains were identified in 1999. His remains were then repatriated to the United States and Larry was finally laid to rest in Arlington National cemetery in 2003.
Another Lodge Act Green Beret was Henryk “Frenchy” Szarek, a Polish man who survived the brutalities of both the Nazis and the Soviets in his home country before escaping. He spoke a half dozen languages and served in nearly as many armies during his military career. After serving in the French Foreign Legion, with combat parachute jumps in Vietnam as a mortar section Sergeant, Szarek was medically discharged from the Legion due to combat wounds he received in Indo-China. Later, he heard about the Lodge Act and decided to give the US Army a try. It was only natural that he found his way into the ranks of the first generation of Special Forces soldiers.
“When the call went out for volunteers for assignment with 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) in Germany, he volunteered yet again. It was in Bad Tölz that his skills and experience were to be used with greatest effect. Forward deployed in Germany, near the Iron Curtain, the 10th SFGA trained hard, preparing for a possible Soviet-led invasion of Europe. Frenchy was a key player, for example, during Group Unconventional Warfare Field Training Exercises such as Autumn Walk III in France, working with locals, helping to establish and run escape and evasion nets for recovery of downed aircrew and personnel if the Cold War turned hot. Such skills did not pass unnoticed and he was eventually moved from an operational Field Team to Group Headquarters and Headquarters Company where six European languages could be used to great effect by the Commander and staff,” wrote former Special Forces soldier, Bob Seals. Szarek lived an impressive life to say the least. He passed away in 2011.
For this author, many questions remain about the Lodge Act Green Berets. What other secret missions did they participate in? Who were the other Lodge Act Special Forces men? How did the mission of the Special Forces men in Bad Tölz dove tail with 21 SAS and their Cold War mission in Germany? This Post-WWII Cold War era was a time of political consolidations, as the super-powers, their allies, and their proxies attempted to secure their respective fronts as well as their flanks. This, of course, involved espionage as well as Unconventional Warfare. All these years later, there are still more questions than answers.
- US Army Special Warfare: Its Origins, by Alfred H. Paddock
- Lodge Act Soldier: Henryk “Frenchy” Szarek, by Bob Seals
- Shadows of a Forgotten Past, by Paul French
- Larry Thorne: Three Wars Under Three Flags, by Mike Perry
(Featured Image Courtesy: Life Magazine)