In World War II, over 4,000 women served with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). Now, 76 years later, they are finally getting their due. On March 8th, the Army Women’s Foundation will honor the Women of the OSS, inducting them, along with other members of the Class of 2021 into the Army Women’s Hall of Fame. This event is held annually in recognition of Women’s History month and also includes a number of scholarship awards. The Hall of Fame ceremony will be held virtually on March 8th, but will be streaming live on the Foundation’s Facebook page.
The OSS, only operational during the War, was the predecessor to the Central Intelligence Agency, the U.S. Special Operations Command, U.S. Special Forces, and the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research.
Four thousand OSS women worked in every part of the operation, as spies, saboteurs, resistance fighters, leaders, propaganda experts, cryptographers, cartographers, analysts, and experts in recruiting, in communications, preparing news and information for friendly forces and disinformation for enemy forces.
There were also legions of administrative support workers, the clerks, drivers, the logistics managers. Together, they fought the undercover war. Some risked their lives, others their livelihoods, but they made it all work.
The women of the OSS have heretofore not been recognized. Since they all swore secrecy oaths and their personnel records were sealed until 2008, most never even received recognition as war veterans. They are passing from this earth now in great numbers, these women of the Greatest Generation. They were young and bold then, stepping out of line to risk their safety, sometimes their futures and even their lives to contribute to America's fight against her enemies.
The women being honored with this award include:
Virginia Hall was part of the Operations Branch of the OSS, the organization that preceded today’s Special Operations Forces. The Gestapo called her the “most dangerous of all Allied spies.” Virginia was a civilian; following the loss of her leg in a hunting accident she was unable to serve in uniform. But serve she did, leading resistance forces in France and conducting guerrilla warfare against the Nazis. The Gestapo continued to hunt her, searching for the “Limping Lady.” They never caught her. She was the only American woman to receive the Distinguished Service Cross in World War II – for her bravery in combat. She was also awarded the Croix de Guerre from France, and the MBE from the United Kingdom. After the war she continued her work in clandestine operations with the CIA.
Major Stephanie Czech Rader joined the Womens Army Corps (WAC) right out of college. The child of immigrants, Polish was her first language and she was a natural to be recruited by the OSS. Assigned to the X-2 Branch (Counterintelligence), she was deployed in Germany during the last year of the war, then sent to Warsaw in October 1945. Using an assumed identity, she traveled the ravaged countryside, reporting on Russian troop movements, political changes, and Polish public sentiment. The Legion of Merit was awarded to her posthumously, at her funeral in 2016. The Chaplain who spoke that day said, “Stephanie chose the life of a warrior. She has earned her place among those honored here.”
Elizabeth “Betty” McIntosh was a young newspaper reporter from Hawaii, when she was recruited into the OSS in Washington, in 1942. Her communications skills made her a natural for the Morale Operations Branch. She served in India, Burma and China, working on propaganda campaigns designed to influence enemy Japanese soldiers and their families. In China, her team’s radio station helped develop broadcasts to undermine enemy morale. In one broadcast, she encouraged their program host, a famous Chinese host, to predict a major disaster for Japan. He did, just one day before the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Following the war, she continued to serve with the CIA and spent a number of years involved with classified propaganda operations in Japan.
Marion Frieswyk joined the OSS Map Division while still in graduate school. She became one of the first professional cartographers and together with her team, virtually invented a new career field where maps could be used to graphically represent intelligence information to senior decision makers. There was no road map for what they were doing, no style guide, or operating principles. They made it up as they went along. Marion and her teammates created maps that showed the sweep of Axis troop movements, helped Allied planners prepare for the invasion of Sicily and D- Day and supported major international conferences with allied leaders including President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill. In 1946, Marion was part of a small team of cartographers who helped transfer map-making functions to the newly-created CIA.
Founded in 1969, the U.S. Army Women’s Foundation is the oldest woman veteran’s organization in the U.S. The premier military organization for educational excellence, the AWF is the national network for today’s Army women, a dynamic advocate for telling the history of Army women. The Foundation is a 501(c)(3) organization whose mission is to recognize and honor the service of women in the Army and to support the Army Women’s Museum. For more information, visit: www.awfdn.org.
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Mari K. Eder
PO Box 186, Portville New York 14770 United States