WASHINGTON — Time is running out for Congress to pass a bill honoring World War II heroes who belonged to the civilian wartime intelligence agency that predated the CIA — the Office of Strategic Services.
The Office of Strategic Services Congressional Gold Medal Act has stalled in the House, and the bill could end up dying. Time also is running out for veterans to be recognized, with more than 600 World War II veterans dying each day.
“If it isn’t passed, it’s going to die with this Congress and some of the greatest heroes of World War II will never be recognized for their service,” said Charles Pinck, president of the OSS Society.
The OSS was a civilian government organization that drew its people from every branch of the military. It was where the Navy SEALs and the Army’s special forces got their starts. The OSS is known for performing some of the bravest acts during World War II, including missions behind enemy lines.
Earlier this year, the Senate unanimously passed the Gold Medal Act, which was introduced by Sen. Mark Warner from Virginia. But the bill is languishing in the House.
“If this bill isn’t passed, they’re never going to be honored for their service and that would be a travesty,” Pinck said.
In the House, Pinck added, the bill has 320 co-sponsors — nearly 75 percent of its members. He said the House changed the rules for passing Gold Medal bills after the prior session of Congress. Now, in order to grant a Gold Medal bill to a group of people and not just an individual, a waiver from the House leadership is needed.
He said there is no reason that a waiver should not be granted for the bill, especially after the House leadership granted a similar waiver during this session for a Gold Medal bill awarded to civil rights movement marchers.
Pinck said this bill has to be passed in the lame-duck session of Congress because time is running out for these veterans. “I’d be shocked if there were more than 100 OSS veterans still living. The ones that are still alive are all in their 90s, and we’re losing them every day,” he said.
He said he was told that a waiver was proposed for the OSS bill in September before Congress adjourned, but House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy killed it.
Pinck said he also wants the bill passed so more Americans will know about the service. “Few people are aware of the heroism of the OSS,” he said.
The OSS was founded shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor. President Franklin Roosevelt understood that America needed a centralized intelligence agency with the ability to conduct unconventional warfare, which it did not have, said Pinck. So in June 1942, Roosevelt created the OSS, and he appointed as its director William “Wild Bill” Donovan.
The OSS played a critical role in D-Day. President Dwight Eisenhower, who was a commanding general during World War II, said that if it had done nothing else, the intelligence the OSS gathered before D-Day alone justified its creation. But the OSS also gathered intelligence for other major invasions during World War II. Pinck said the OSS also supported resistance movements around the globe and that its Morale Operations branch pioneered the use of psychological warfare.
He said the House has honored many other groups of World War II veterans with the Congressional Gold Medal, including the Doolittle Raiders, the Tuskegee Airmen and the First Special Service Force, an elite American-Canadian commando unit.
“If they honored those groups, they should honor the OSS,” said Pinck. “Pat O’Donnell has written extensively about the OSS, and he’s said you’d be very hard pressed to find a smaller group of individuals who made such a profound difference in the history of modern American warfare.”
Several local areas were used as OSS training facilities — including Prince William Forest Park in Prince William County, Virginia, and Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland.
Pinck said few people know that Sterling Hayden, the great actor from “Dr. Strangelove” and “The Godfather,” was a Marine who served in the OSS Maritime Unit and received a Silver Star for conducting covert missions in the Adriatic Sea.
He said some of the other notable members of the OSS included Hollywood director John Ford, who headed up the OSS Field Photographic Unit, and American chef Julia Child was in the OSS.
“But I’ll go back to what Gen. Donovan, who founded the OSS, said about the people who served in it,” Pinck said. “He said they performed some of the bravest acts of the war, and their bravery deserves to be recognized with a Congressional Gold Medal.”