Historic spy agency awarded Congressional Gold Medal in DC

WASHINGTON — After more than 75 years, a secret spy agency that was crucial in helping win World War II, is being honored.

The Office of Strategic Services, the OSS, was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, Congress’ highest civilian honor “for their indispensable contributions to victory in World War II,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan at Wednesday’s ceremony at the Capitol.

Charles Pinck, president of the OSS Society said it’s the first time the agency has been publicly recognized.

The OSS, the predecessor of the CIA, was also where the Navy Seals and Special Forces got their start.

Pinck said it has taken years for the men and women of OSS to be recognized for their heroic service. Not many OSS veterans are still alive, said Pinck, but about 22 OSS vets attended the ceremony.

“I think they believed that it would never happen. We’re very grateful that it did,” said Pinck, whose father was an OSS vet who served behind enemy lines in China. “We’ve been working on this bill for years and years and years and to finally get that recognition was incredibly gratifying.”

Pinck said the OSS veterans who attended the ceremony were thrilled, overwhelmed and overjoyed.

Now that the medal has been presented, Pinck hopes it will bring awareness to the OSS, its contributions during World War II and how it laid the foundation for the present day CIA and U.S. Special Operations command.

The OSS was formed on June 13, 1942 by General William Donovan and President Franklin Roosevelt. Donovan is often quoted as saying that his OSS personnel performed some of the bravest acts of the war.

“The astonishing thing is that this organization was set up in June of 1942, and by the end of the war had established a global intelligence network of roughly 13,000 people,” said Pinck.

Women made up about a third of the OSS workforce.

The OSS personal records were declassified in 2008.

Pinck said Eero Saarinen, who designed Dulles Airport, served in the OSS. Other notable Americans who served in the OSS are chef Julia Child and actor Sterling Haden, known for his roles in the “Godfather” and “Dr. Strange Love.”

“A lot of people, even in World War II, weren’t aware that the OSS existed,” said Pinck.

The OSS only lasted for around three years. It was disbanded by President Harry Truman immediately after the end of World War II on October 1, 1945.

“The important thing is this medal is now part of history. It’ll never be taken away,” said Pinck.

The medal will be on display at the Smithsonian. Pinck said it will be displayed permanently at the National Museum of Intelligence and Special Operations, planned for Loudoun County.

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