This article was written by Bob Dole, and published on Military Times. Bob Dole was a former Senator who represented Kansas in Congress from 1969-1996. He served as an Army combat infantry officer in Northern Italy during World War II.
The Office of Strategic Services, better known as the OSS, was the World War II predecessor to the CIA, U.S. Special Operations Command and the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research. It was created after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. President Franklin Roosevelt believed the war necessitated the creation of a centralized intelligence agency with the capability to conduct unconventional warfare.
Roosevelt chose as its director Army Gen. William “Wild Bill” Donovan, who earned the Medal of Honor fighting with the legendary “Fighting 69th” Infantry Regiment in World War I. Roosevelt called General Donovan his “secret legs.” Donovan was a man of seemingly limitless intelligence, vision and bravery who is considered the founding father of the intelligence and special operations communities.
The OSS Maritime Unit was a predecessor to the Navy SEALs. Its Jedburgh and Operational Groups were predecessors to Army Special Forces. Elements of the Army Air Corps served as the air arm of the OSS and as predecessors to Air Force Special Operations Command. The Marines who served in the OSS were predecessors to the Marines Corps Forces Special Operations Command.
Donovan said OSS personnel performed “some of the bravest acts of the war.” They were drawn from every branch of the military and the civilian population. Donovan called them his “glorious amateurs”:
• Army officers including Col. Aaron Bank, considered the “father of Special Forces,” and Maj. William Colby, who would become head of the CIA. See picture of Col Aaron Bank at left.
• Marines including Col. Peter Ortiz, the most highly decorated member of the OSS; Col. William Eddy, who some consider the American “Lawrence of Arabia”; and Sterling Hayden, the famed actor who served under the name John Hamilton and would earn a Silver Star before returning to Hollywood for roles in “The Godfather” and “Dr. Strangelove.”
• Coast Guard personnel, including Lt. John Booth, served as the OSS’s operational swimmers.
• Navy Lt. Jack Taylor, a Navy Cross recipient who led one of the deepest parachute missions into occupied Austria and survived captivity in a Nazi concentration camp.
• Fred Mayer, the real “inglorious bastard” who was nominated for the Medal of Honor. See picture of Fred Mayer at right.
• James Donovan, the OSS general counsel who was portrayed by Tom Hanks in “Bridge of Spies”
• Virginia Hall, the only civilian woman to receive the Distinguished Service Cross in World War II.
The OSS supported resistance movements around the world. General Eisenhower said the intelligence it gathered before D-Day alone justified its creation, but the OSS played a critical role in other invasions.
Its Morale Operations Branch pioneered the use of psychological warfare. It brought leading academics into the war effort to work for its Research and Analysis Branch and created area studies. It led Operation Halyard, one of World War II’s most famed rescue missions. Its Communications, Presentation, and Research and Development Branches created new technologies and devised innovative methodologies.
OSS personnel went behind enemy lines on the war’s most dangerous missions. Historian Patrick O’Donnell said one would “be very hard-pressed to find a smaller group of individuals who made such a profound difference in the history of modern American warfare."
The Office of Strategic Services Congressional Gold Medal Act will honor the men and women who served in the OSS. Sens. Mark Warner, D-Va., and Roy Blunt, R-Mo., introduced this bill in the Senate, where it was passed unanimously with 73 co-sponsors earlier this year. The House bill has 320 co-sponsors – nearly 75 percent of the body’s members.
The House has honored many other groups of World War II veterans, including the Doolittle Raiders, the Tuskegee Airmen and the 1st Special Service Force. Under new rules enacted for the 114th Congress, House leadership must issue a waiver to allow passage of Congressional Gold Medal bills that honor groups of people. It granted such a waiver to the only other Gold Medal bill passed in this session of Congress, which honored civil rights marchers. There is no reason a waiver should not be granted for the OSS bill, too.
Time is running out pass this bill before Congress adjourns. If the gavel falls before the bill is passed, some of the greatest and unrecognized heroes of World War II will never be honored for their service. This would be a travesty. When Donovan died in 1959, President Eisenhower said he was the “last hero.” It is time to honor the “last hero,” and all the heroes of the OSS, with a Congressional Gold Medal.