Defense Media Network

The OSS Society

Honoring the Legacy and Educating for the Future


When the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) was terminated following President Harry S Truman’s executive order in 1947 that abolished it, the organization’s founder and only leader, Maj. Gen. William J. Donovan, was determined that the nation’s first intelligence and counter-espionage agency would not become forgotten history. Soon after its official demise, in a room in Rockefeller Center in Manhattan, Donovan founded the Veterans of OSS. In the 1990s, surviving OSS members were aging and their ranks were rapidly shrinking. Wanting the organization to outlast them, in 1997, Veterans of OSS was reconstituted into the OSS Society in order to carry on the legacy of the OSS, honor those who make noteworthy contributions through their service in the intelligence and special operations communities, and to educate and inspire future generations.

“The OSS was an organization designed to do great things.”

– Adm. Eric T. Olson, USN (Ret.), former commander, U.S. Special Operations Command

In its mission statement, the society states that it honors “the historic accomplishments of the Office of Strategic Services during World War II – the first organized effort by the United States to implement a centralized system of strategic intelligence and the predecessor to the Central Intelligence Agency [CIA] and U.S. Special Operations Command” and the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research. “It educates the American public regarding the continuing importance of strategic intelligence and special operations to the preservation of freedom.”

Charles T. Pinck became president of the OSS Society in 2002 and has presided over a number of important achievements. “I think the proudest thing was the presentation of a Congressional Gold Medal to the OSS,” he said. “It was a long-fought effort and our proudest accomplishment so far.”

OSS Society congressional gold medal presentation

In a ceremony on March 21, 2018, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan presented the Congressional Gold Medal to the OSS. OSS SOCIETY PHOTO

The Congressional Gold Medal is Congress’ highest civilian honor. Rep. Bob Latta, R-Ohio, House sponsor of the bill, said the medal will ensure OSS veterans’ “heroic actions during one of our country’s most trying times will not be forgotten.” Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., co-sponsor of the bill in the Senate, said that with the awarding of the medal, “Congress has ensured that their courage of spirit and their love of country will long live on in our nation’s memory.”

In a special ceremony at the Capitol on March 21, 2018, Speaker of the House the Honorable Paul Ryan presented the Congressional Gold Medal. The medal is now on permanent display in the Smithsonian Institution.

When the State Department began a redevelopment project on Navy Hill, across the street from the State Department building, Pinck learned that part of that redevelopment included the leveling of the three buildings on Observatory Hill that were the original headquarters of the OSS as well as the first headquarters of its successor, the CIA. “So obviously, the buildings had an important historical connection and we wanted them saved,” Pinck said. On Jan. 12, 2017, after years of hard work, Pinck said, “We had the buildings added to the National Register of Historic Places.”

OSS Society OSS congressional gold medal

The front and back of the Congressional Gold Medal that was presented to the OSS. OSS SOCIETY IMAGES

Looking forward, Pinck said, “I think our greatest achievement will be when we open the National Museum of Intelligence and Special Operations [NMISO]. We just signed a lease for an 8-acre site in Loudon County, Virginia, on which to build it.”

The project began about eight years ago. The society commissioned Lord Cultural Resources to develop a master plan for the complex that included concept, visitor experience, operational, staffing, and facility plans, as well as capital cost estimates and projections of attendance (approximately 100,000 per year for the first five years), operating revenue, and operating expenses. Honorary chairmen and members of the steering committee are former secretaries of defense Robert M. Gates and Leon E. Panetta and Adm. William H. McRaven, USN (Ret.) former commander, U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM).

“Its purpose is threefold,” Pinck said. “First, to honor Americans serving at the tip of the spear; second, to educate the American public on the role intelligence and special operations have in the preservation of freedom; and finally, inspire future generations of Americans to serve their country. It’s a pretty high calling, but I think it’s something that’s achievable, and I think it is something people will want to support.”

“I think our greatest achievement will be when we open the National Museum of Intelligence and Special Operations [NMISO].”

Curt Fentress of Fentress Architects was commissioned to design the museum and grounds. Fentress used as his inspiration for the landscape the OSS speartip, calling it “A dramatic and iconic architectural gesture is a befitting salute to Gen. Donovan’s ‘glorious amateurs.’” The 67,000-square-foot museum building features an escalating ribbed design that reflects the shape and beauty of the wing of the American bald eagle. It will contain a 4,000-square-foot lobby and flexible event space, 19,000 square feet of permanent exhibition space, an educational center equipped with flexible learning spaces, and a 200-seat multifunctional space suitable for a wide range of events.

Just as the exterior is an homage to the OSS, so too is the interior design. It is inspired by the Paris Ritz Hotel’s Bar Hemingway. Hemingway’s son, John (known as “Jack”) was a member of the OSS, working with the resistance in the South of France. Hemingway himself briefly served as well, thanks to a “battlefield” appointment through a handwritten note in a village not far from Paris by OSS commander Col. David Bruce. In an escapade straight out of Hollywood, Bruce, Hemingway, and their motley group of resistance fighters dashed into the city along with the French Second Armored Division and American units, winding up at the Ritz Hotel, where they celebrated the liberation of Paris at the bar, drinking martinis.

OSS Society museum interior

An artist’s rendition of the interior of the future National Museum of Intelligence and Special Operations (NMISO). OSS SOCIETY IMAGE

Displays will feature a wide range of interactive technologies, re-created “escape rooms,” and mission profiles that allow visitors to go “undercover” on a mission and experience, minus the danger, what it must have been like. And the displays will reveal that, as fascinating as the technology seen in James Bond films was, it is nothing compared to what was used in real life.

The NMISO will be more than a traditional museum. Officials and educators from private industry, surrounding school districts, and Georgetown University are in the process of creating a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) syllabus that uses the museum’s resources and archives as case studies. In addition, it will offer educational programs and seminars tailored to the ever-changing needs of intelligence and special operations personnel as well as contractors that support those communities.

Originally, only people who served in the OSS could be members of the OSS Society. Over time that changed. Pinck said that today membership is divided into several categories, beginning with “OSS veterans, of which there are increasingly fewer, though we had about 20 show up at the latest awards ceremony. Another category is descendants of OSS veterans, and I am in that category. The bulk of our membership consists of people who served in intelligence or special operations, or in some component of our national security. For anyone else wishing to become a member, we have associate memberships available. Information for membership can be found on our website.”

The OSS Society gives out a number of awards recognizing individuals who have made important contributions to the intelligence and special operations community. Awards are presented at a special black tie William J. Donovan Award ceremony held each year in Washington, D.C.

OSS Society Christian Lambertsen

Adm. Eric Olson presenting The OSS Society’s Distinguished Service Award to Dr. Christian Lambertsen at the 2009 William J. Donovan Award Dinner. OSS SOCIETY PHOTO

The awards include the William J. Donovan Award®, presented “to an individual who has rendered distinguished service to the United States of America” and has “exemplified the distinguishing features that characterized General Donovan’s lifetime of public service.”

The Hugh Montgomery Award®, in honor of the late Hugh Montgomery, past chairman of the OSS Society, is “given to retired officers from the CIA in recognition for outstanding service.”

The Peter Ortiz Award®, named after Marine Col. Peter Ortiz, the most decorated member of the OSS, is given to an outstanding active-duty member of SOCOM.

OSS Society Peter Ortiz award recipient

Air Force Lt. Gen. Scott Howell, vice commander, U.S. Special Operations Command (left) and Chief Warrant Officer 4 Shane Gandy, 2017 Peter Ortiz- OSS Award recipient and operations officer for Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne), at the William J. Donovan Award Dinner in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 21, 2017. PHOTO COURTESY OF LAURA LACEY

The Virginia Hall Award®, named after OSS operator Virginia Hall, the only woman to receive the Distinguished Service Cross in World War II, honors women who have performed outstanding service in the intelligence or special operations communities.

The John Waller Award®, named in honor of OSS historian John Waller, recognizes achievement in intelligence and SOCOM community scholarship.

The Distinguished Service Award® is presented to OSS veterans and other individuals who have made significant contributions to operations or the OSS legacy.

The OSS Society provides speakers to a wide variety of groups, is the publisher of The OSS Society Journal, and has established OSS memorials in the United States and Europe. It is a 501(c)(3) public charity. All donations are tax-deductible to the fullest extent of the law. More information about the OSS Society is available on its website

William J. Donovan Award® Recipients

Dr. Michael G. Vickers is the latest individual to receive the William J. Donovan Award® in recognition of his “distinguished service to the United States of America.” He began his long and distinguished career in the Army, serving as a sergeant in the Special Forces (Green Berets). He later became a CIA operations officer, participating in the invasion of Grenada, the U.S. government’s operational response to the Beirut bombings, and the covert effort to drive the Red Army out of Afghanistan.

OSS Society Michael Vickers

2017 William J. Donovan Award recipient Dr. Michael G. Vickers.

From 2007 to 2011, as Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations, Low-Intensity Conflict and Interdependent Capabilities, he was the “service” secretary for all special operations forces and had policy oversight of all of the Defense Department’s operational capabilities. He conceived and led the largest expansion of special operations forces in America’s history and oversaw several other major capability investments ranging from next-generation long-range strike to undersea warfare to deter future great power war.

From 2011 to 2015, Vickers served as the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, exercising authority, direction, and control over the National Security Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, National Reconnaissance Office, Defense Security Service, and the intelligence components of the military services and combatant commands.

1961   The Honorable Allen W. Dulles

1963   The Honorable John J. McCloy

1964   Lt. Gen. William W. Quinn

1965   President Dwight D. Eisenhower

1966   The Earl Mountbatten of Burma

1967   The Honorable Everett McKinley Dirksen

1969   J. Russell Forgan

1970   The Astronauts of Apollo 11: Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, Buzz Aldrin

1971   The Honorable David K.E. Bruce

1974   The Honorable William J. Casey

1977   The Honorable Robert D. Murphy

1979   His Excellency Jacques Chaban-Delmas

1981   The Right Honorable Margaret Thatcher

1982   The Honorable John A. McCone

1983   The Honorable Richard Helms

1983   Sir William Stephenson

1986   President Ronald W. Reagan

1991   President George H.W. Bush

1993   Dr. Carl F. Eifler

1995   The Honorable William E. Colby

2004   The Honorable Ralph J. Bunche

2005   Judge William H. Webster

2009   Gen. David H. Petraeus, USA

2011   Adm. Eric T. Olson, USN (Ret.)

2012   The Honorable Robert M. Gates

2013   Adm. William H. McRaven, USN

2014   The Honorable Leon E. Panetta

2015   Ambassador Hugh Montgomery

2016   Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, USAF (Ret.)

2017   Dr. Michael G. Vickers

Peter Ortiz Award® Recipients

Presented to active-duty members of SOCOM

2015   CW5 Stephen Combs, USA

2016   CW4 Robert J. Hunt, USA

2017   CW4 David S. Gandy, USA

Hugh Montgomery Award® Recipients

Presented to retired CIA operations officers

2014   Jack Devine

2015   John D. Bennett

2016   David Cohen

2017   Joseph Wippl

Distinguished Service Award® Recipients

2011   Fisher Howe, special assistant to Gen. William Donovan

2012   Ambassador Charles Hostler, who served in the OSS’ Counterintelligence Branch (X-2) and went ashore on D-Day

2012   Frederick Mayer, the real “inglorious bastard” of OSS Operation GREENUP

2013   Col. William H. Pietsch Jr., USA (Ret.): Jedburgh

2015   Helias Doundoulakis

2015   Col. Frank A. Gleason, USA (Ret.)

2016   Caesar Daraio & Thomas Rossi (fought with the OSS Italian Operational Groups: “Donovan’s Devils”)

2016   John Billings, 885th Bombardment Group (Heavy) (Special)

2016   Bill Becker (“Carpetbagger, 801st/492nd Bombardment Group, the air arm of the OSS)

2017   Clement D. Dowler (fought with OSS Operational Group LOUISE)

This article was originally published in the 2018-2019 edition of Special Operations Outlook.


DWIGHT JON ZIMMERMAN is a bestselling and award-winning author, radio host, and president of the...