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OSS Congressional Gold Medal Act Passed by Congress

 

The Office of Strategic Services (OSS) Congressional Gold Medal Act (S. 2234) was passed by the House of Representatives yesterday. The OSS was the World War II predecessor to the CIA, the US Special Operations Command and the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research. It was created in 1942 by President Roosevelt who appointed Gen. William Donovan, a World War I Medal of Honor recipient, as its director. Donovan is the founding father of the US intelligence and special operations communities.

The OSS played a critical role in America’s victory in World War II. It gathered critical intelligence that led to the success of D-Day. America’s leading academics served in its Research and Analysis Branch. It supported, trained and led resistance movements around the globe. The OSS created new technologies and devised innovative methodologies. Its personnel went behind enemy lines on the most dangerous missions of World War II. The OSS ran one of the war’s most important spies, the German diplomat Fritz Kolbe. Its Morale Operations Branch pioneered the use of psychological operations.

William Joseph (Wild_Bill) Donovan, Head of the OSS

Maj. Gen. William Joseph Donovan, the namesake of the prestigious OSS Society award, shown here as a brigadier general. OSS photo.

The OSS drew its personnel from every branch of the military. Its Maritime Unit was a predecessor to the Navy SEALs. Its Jedburghs and Operational Groups were predecessors to the Green Berets, the US Army Special Forces. The 801st/492nd Bombardment Group (“Carpetbaggers”), and other elements of the US Army Air Corps, the air arm of the OSS, were predecessors to the Air Force Special Operations Command. The Marines who served in the OSS were predecessors to the Marine Corps Special Operations Command. It drew its operational swimmers from the US Coast Guard.

OSS personnel included the Hollywood actor Sterling Hayden; Fred Mayer, the real “inglorious bastard” who was nominated for the Medal of Honor: the “French Chef” Julia Child; Virginia Hall, the only American civilian woman to receive the Distinguished Service Cross in World War II; Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg; Hollywood director John Ford; James Donovan, the OSS general counsel who was portrayed by Tom Hanks in “Bridge of Spies”; Ralph Bunche, the first person of color to receive the Nobel Peace Prize; Medal of Freedom recipients Moe Berg and Marlene Dietrich; four CIA directors (William Casey, William Colby, Allen Dulles and Richard Helms); Nobel Physics Prize recipient Jack Kilby, who invented the integrated circuit; and Pulitzer Price recipient and JFK aide Arthur Schlesinger Jr.

Donovan, Officers

OSS founder Maj. Gen. William J. Donovan with members of the OSS Operational Groups, forerunners of today’s U.S.special operations forces, at the Congressional Country Club in Besthesda, Md., which served as the primary OSS training facility. Photo courtesy of OSS Society

“For many years, the heroic contributions of the OSS – which included some of the most daring covert operations of World War II — remained shrouded in secrecy, their contributions largely unknown to the American public. Today, Congress is able to publicly recognize the members of the OSS for their remarkable heroism and many sacrifices,” said Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), who cosponsored the Senate bill with Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO). “As the predecessor to the modern CIA, other elements of the U.S. intelligence community, and U.S. special operations forces, the OSS once boasted nearly 13,000 members, but more than 70 years after they won the war, fewer than 100 are still with us. I know how much it means to the veterans of the OSS, as well as their families, that this legislation is finally making its way to the President’s desk to be signed into law. Today, Congress has ensured that their courage of spirit and their love of country will long live on in our nation’s memory.”

“From establishing intelligence networks deep behind enemy lines to bolstering resistance organizations throughout Europe and Asia, the members of the OSS saved thousands of lives and played a critical role in securing the Allied victory in World War II,” said Sen. Roy Blunt.

“Honoring veterans of the OSS with a Congressional Gold Medal will ensure that their heroic actions during one of our country’s most trying times will not be forgotten,” said Congressman Bob Latta (R-OH), the bill’s House sponsor. “The clandestine nature of the OSS often meant members had to operate behind enemy lines in situations calling for unquestionable bravery and unparalleled skill. Their actions played an important role in winning the war and saved countless American lives in the process.”

Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) said she was “deeply honored … to pay tribute to the patriotic and fearless soldiers of the OSS. Over 13,000 exceptional Americans comprised the Office of Strategic Services, formed clandestinely during World War II by President Roosevelt.”

OSS Maritime Unit

OSS Maritime Unit diver employing the “Lambertsen Lung,” an early pure oxygen rebreathing apparatus. Photo courtesy of Tom Hawkins

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said: “The Office of Strategic Services was filled with patriots who honorably served their country while making an enormous contribution to the defeat of the Axis powers. It’s gratifying to see Congress recognize their heroism.”

House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Ranking Member Adam Schiff (D-CA) said: “The men and women who served our country in the Office of the Strategic Service are among the most deserving of the Congressional Gold Medal. The OSS, members of our “Greatest Generation,” were the faces and minds behind our modern intelligence community and helped vanquish some of the most malevolent enemies that our country, and indeed the world, has ever faced. We owe them a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid, and I am pleased the bill has finally been passed by the House and will hopefully soon be signed into law.”

OSS Training

Candidates for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) learn how to set up radio antennae. National Archives and Records Administration photo

Charles Pinck, president of The OSS Society, said: “General Donovan said OSS personnel performed ‘some of the bravest acts of the war.’ We are very grateful to the Majority Leader, the bills’ sponsors in the House and Senate, and the 393 cosponsors from both bodies for recognizing their bravery with a Congressional Gold Medal. We look forward to the presentation of this medal next year to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the OSS’ founding.”

Dana Hudson, the daughter of Capt. James W. Hudson, Sr., said: “It is a great honor to see this important bill passed this year. My father and his OSS colleagues put their lives on the line, often alone, in enemy territory for one purpose: to preserve the freedom of our nation and the world. I only wish he were here to receive this honor himself.”

The Congressional Gold Medal is Congress’ highest civilian honor. The bill, which was passed by the US Senate earlier this year, now goes to President Obama for his signature.

More information about the OSS Congressional Gold Medal Act, including photographs, are available at http://osssociety.org/goldmedalact.html.