Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony Honoring the Office of Strategic Services
'But deeper than institutional history, it is the spirit of these veterans that endures. Their pluck and patriotism prove that any American could rise to defeat the foes of freedom. So, it is our privilege to salute the OSS veterans present today, and our duty to give thanks for those who have passed on. How fortunate we are that these heroes answered the call.’
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Leaders of the U.S. House and Senate held a Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony today honoring members of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) for their service in World War II. The following are U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s remarks delivered during the ceremony, which took place in Emancipation Hall, in the U.S. Capitol:
“As we’ve been hearing today, the ranks of the Office of Strategic Services included quite the cast of characters. There was ‘Wild Bill’ Donovan, the visionary leader intent on ‘sowing the dragon’s teeth’ and breeding chaos behind enemy lines. There were celebrities like Marlene Dietrich, and future celebrities like Julia Child; all-star academics, like Arthur Schlesinger.
“I’m partial to the story of Moe Berg, an Ivy Leaguer turned journeyman Major League Baseball catcher who gave up trying to hit curveballs and started throwing curveballs to the Nazis. Moe parachuted into occupied Yugoslavia, and he eavesdropped on German physicists.
“The history of the OSS is packed with these kinds of dramatic exploits. Saboteurs like Colonel Frank Gleason slowed the Japanese advance across China, demolishing hundreds of railways and bridges. Undercover operatives like Colonel Peter Ortiz stared down Nazi officers, laying groundwork for the Allied invasion. Pilots like Captain John Billings flew low and slow through the Austrian Alps, deploying agents behind enemy lines to hasten the war’s end.
“These exciting tales feel tailor-made for the history books – or the silver screen. And truly, this heroism did indeed made history. Its impact can’t be overstated. President Eisenhower once said that even if the OSS had done nothing besides its intelligence-gathering in advance of D-Day, the whole enterprise would still have been worth it.
“Just where did these fearless men and women come from? The Office of Strategic Services hosted more than 24,000 personnel. Some were servicemembers, transferred from other units. Others volunteered after hearing this invitation broadcast over base loudspeakers: ‘Wanted: Volunteers for immediate overseas assignment… Likelihood of a dangerous mission guaranteed.’
“Still others were civilians who leapt at the chance to serve. Some spent the war deep in cloak-and-dagger operations. Others manned radios or pored over research. Some would go on to post-war fame as statesmen and celebrities. Others returned to the richness of the ordinary American life they’d just fought to defend -- like a Louisville, Kentucky draftsman named Edward Becker, or a Boyd County farmhand named Wilson Barker.
“But all together, they -- the men and women of the OSS -- are its greatest legacy. That legacy gave us the CIA, where brave Americans have continued risking everything to keep us safe. And it helped lead to the Navy SEALs, the Army Special Forces, and the Air Force and Marine Corps Special Operations Commands. Quite the family tree.
“But deeper than institutional history, it is the spirit of these veterans that endures. Their pluck and patriotism prove that any American could rise to defeat the foes of freedom. So, it is our privilege to salute the OSS veterans present today, and our duty to give thanks for those who have passed on. How fortunate we are that these heroes answered the call.”