Describe Gen. Donovan. How many times did you meet him?
I met him on a one-on-one basis when I was ordered to go to his office. That was a very, very … that makes a great impression on a young officer to see a leader like that, especially when he’s wearing the Medal of Honor on his chest. I had a chance to meet him later on when he came to visit us in England. He went there and visited the Jedburghs and gave a pep talk. I was impressed by the fact that he was more interested in my attitude toward the OSS and the concept he was selling than he was in the training I had. He just filled a room with energy. I think that’s the most important thing I remember about him.
You had some rigorous training at the camps around Washington, D.C., the Congressional Country Club and other locations. Part of that was under British Army Maj. Ewart Fairbairn, who together with Maj. Bill Sykes, also from the British Army, played an important role in the early years of special operations. Describe your experience.
Maj. Fairbairn did not have a great deal to [do] with the training at the Congressional Country Club. He was located in the Maryland countryside in a place the OSS called Area B-1. That is now referred to as Camp David. That’s where we were sent after the activities at the Congressional Country Club were completed.
That was a very, very … that makes a great impression on a young officer to see a leader like that, especially when he’s wearing the Medal of Honor on his chest. I had a chance to meet him later on when he came to visit us in England.
Regarding Maj. Fairbairn, he looked a little old to me at that time. I think he was a reserve officer. He had been with the police at Shanghai, running the police in the British Concession at Shanghai. He was a tall, thin, wiry man. I would also say he appeared strong. He was well-tanned, he had obviously spent a lot of time outdoors. His face was sort of leathery.
He really knew his stuff. His specialty was primarily hand-to-hand combat. He would introduce the course – and himself – by selecting the biggest guy in the class. Fairbairn would tell him to come out. He’d hand the man a stick, saying he should assume it’s a knife. Then Fairbairn would tell the soldier to attack him and try to stick that into his belly, or somewhere. After a few bobs and twists, all of a sudden the guy was flat on his back, on the ground, and Fairbairn would have his foot on his chest or some other place that would enable him to control his opponent.
The result of that demonstration was to get your attention. He would end up showing you all the things you needed to do to disarm someone attacking with a knife. Later he would allow you to use a bayonet and come after him, and he would show you how to take that away from the enemy.
How long did you train under Maj. Fairbairn?
We were there for several weeks. He didn’t conduct all the classes. We were introduced to American demolitions. One of the officers who had been selected for that was a lieutenant, Larry Swank, who graduated No. 2 in his class at West Point [N.Y.]. He was a captain of the soccer team at West Point. And because of his class ranking, he was given his choice of branches; he became an engineer and as an engineer, he had demolitions, and he was recruited into the OSS and was put out as an instructor. He liked the group so much that he volunteered and was eventually admitted; he became a Jed and was deployed as one. Unfortunately he was killed in action in occupied France.
What was the most important lesson that Maj. Fairbairn taught you?
I think self-confidence, or that self-confidence is critical to success – confidence in the use of your weapon is essential to your survival. He was involved [in] introducing us to the concept of instinctive firing. You have to be able to use your weapon automatically, that is, without pausing to take aim and squeeze the trigger – things that you’re coached about when you take rifle or pistol marksmanship training.
Fairbairn would tell him to come out. He’d hand the man a stick, saying he should assume it’s a knife. Then Fairbairn would tell the soldier to attack him and try to stick that into his belly, or somewhere. After a few bobs and twists, all of a sudden the guy was flat on his back, on the ground, and Fairbairn would have his foot on his chest or some other place that would enable him to control his opponent.
What impressed you most about your training in the United States?
Well, I think the way in which individual training was administered to people who were already militarily qualified. The training taught you skills that you didn’t already have. Most importantly, it enabled the instructors and others to evaluate your ability to absorb information and instructions, perform skills, and demonstrate your ability to handle problems.
In fact, if there weren’t problems, they’d create them. Occasionally one of the psychologists or psychiatrists would be dressed and introduced as one of the students. And that person would invariably screw things up. It was then up to the guy who was the acting leader at that time to exercise leadership and solve the particular exercise problem without this guy’s help or to reduce his participation to that of an automaton. This deliberate effort to use this training as a means of psychological assessment was unusual for me.
Was there at any point during your OSS training that you thought of quitting?
It never entered my mind. I wanted to be a regular officer and I thought this was unusually good training. The more I got into it the more I realized that whatever branch I was in, whether it was parachute infantry or plain infantry, I would benefit from this. And I enjoyed it.