About time: Congress approves medal for WWII special operatives

An OSS Operational Group in Greece, 1944 © osssociety.org
A bill to honor Office of Strategic Services (OSS) veterans from World War II was finally adopted in the House of Representatives. It was held up by rules limiting the Congressional Gold Medal to individuals, though it had over 300 co-sponsors.

House Resolution 3929, also known as Office of Strategic Services Congressional Gold Medal Act, was adopted on Wednesday. With the Senate approving its version of the bill in March, the act is now headed to President Barack Obama’s desk for his signature.

Though the bill, sponsored by Representative Robert Latta (R-Ohio) and backed by 320 other lawmakers, made it out of committee in November 2015, it lingered in procedural limbo for over a year. A rule adopted in the early days of the 114th Congress required a special waiver proposed by the House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California) and approved by the rest of the leadership, to give the lawmakers’ highest civilian honor to groups, rather than individuals.

In the past, groups of World War II veterans such as the Navajo “code talkers” or the African-American Tuskegee Airmen were honored with the medal. The waiver was approved earlier this year in order to give the medal to civil rights activists who led the 1965 march in Selma, Alabama, reported the Washington Post. That cleared the path for honoring the OSS.

“Honoring veterans of the OSS with a Congressional Gold Medal will ensure that their heroic actions during one of our country’s most trying times will not be forgotten,” Latta said in a statement. “Their actions played an important role in winning the war and saved countless American lives in the process.”

The OSS was established in 1942 by President FD Roosevelt, who appointed General William “Wild Bill” Donovan as its director. The outfit Donovan called the “Glorious Amateurs” ended up being the ancestor of future US special operations and intelligence services.

Though the OSS itself was dissolved after the war, the intelligence portion of its work was picked up by the CIA in 1947. Navy SEALs were based on the OSS Maritime Unit, while the US Army Special Forces – the Green Berets – were based on the OSS Jedburgh groups. Air Force and Marine Corps special operations commands are likewise descended from the work of Donovan’s commandos.

Nearly 13,000 people once served in the OSS, but fewer than 100 are still alive today, according to Senator Mark Warner (D-Virginia), one of the cosponsors of the Senate bill.

"General Donovan said OSS personnel performed ‘some of the bravest acts of the war.’ We are very grateful to the Majority Leader, the bills' sponsors in the House and Senate, and the 393 cosponsors from both bodies for recognizing their bravery with a Congressional Gold Medal,” said Charles Pinck, president of The OSS Society. “We look forward to the presentation of this medal next year to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the OSS' founding.”

Donovan and the OSS also played a large role in the Nuremberg Trials after World War II.