Before Special Forces and Navy SEALs, before the CIA, there was the Office of Strategic Services.. the OSS. The U.S. force was behind some of the most daring operations in World War II. Congress is poised to award surviving members the Congressional Gold Medal for their bravery. But time is growing short for this handful of heroes.
We spoke with one.
It was founded during World War II.
Founder William Donovan said OSS personnel performed some of the bravest acts of the war. There’s an effort underway in Congress to recognize the surviving OSS veterans for their bravery. But awarding the OSS the Congressional Gold Medal is proving more difficult than even some of the most hair-raising missions that the OSS secretly performed during World War II.
John Billings: This is Mont Blanc, one of the highest peaks in that part of the Alps.
In Woodstock, Virginia, 93-year-old John Billings still has a perfect memory of the daring mission he flew that helped turn the tide of World War II.
John Billings: It was February of '45, it was in the Alps, it was very cold.
Back then, he was 1st Lt. John Billings. A veteran of 14 daytime bombing missions, he was assigned to Operation Greenup, an OSS mission to drop three spies behind enemy lines in Austria.
John Billings: Well, then we got up there and sure enough um, we couldn't find, I mean the whole of the Alps were, were just blanketed in overcast clouds. Later we found out that, that the wind speed was 200 miles an hour going over that ridge. And even the clouds were falling that fast.
The three spies parachuted and made their way to Innsbruck, Austria, Gestapo headquarters.
That mission inspired the 2009 film “Inglourious Basterds.”
Brad Pitt: “We’re going to be doing one thing and one thing only, killing Nazis.”
The intelligence the real spies gathered about Nazi troop movements proved vital to defeating Hitler. That was one mission and a handful of heroes. At its peak, the OSS had 13,000 operators working through Europe, Asia and Africa. Almost a third were women.
They went behind the lines, on covert operations. Underwater. And from the air. The greatest generation of Special Ops and spies.
Today, there are few left. Billings would like to see the Congressional Medal, not only for him and the survivors, but for history’s sake.
John Billings: Well, it means that at least somebody thinks that we did a good job.
John Billings is STILL flying airplanes. The Senate passed a bill to give all the OSS veterans the Congressional Gold Medal. Late this week, we heard from the OSS Society, they tell us the House will vote on awarding the medal, One source tells us that vote could after Thanksgiving.
Congratulations to all the brave Americans who served.