Kids' Zone

 

World War II

We honor a diverse group of people in our World War II Hall of Fame, from the “Father of Modern American Intelligence” to an ingenious baseball catcher who was secretly an international spy. Read about these World War II heroes here.

Gen. William Donovan

Virginia Hall

Morris “Moe” Berg

 

*Historical sketches in this section are written in the first person for stylistic reasons. Biographies should not be interpreted as direct quotations. Sources are listed at the end of each sketch.

 

William Donovan

General William DonovanThe Father of American Intelligence
They might call George Washington "the First DCI," but they refer to me as "the Father of American Intelligence." Now why do historians call me that? Well, it's because I started the Office of Strategic Service which was the CIA's predecessor. It was the first time this country had a centralized agency to collect foreign intelligence and conduct covert action in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. What with being a lawyer, a diplomat, public official, and army officer, I'd say that I've had a pretty full life for a boy born New Year's Day 1883, in Buffalo, New York.

I wanted to be a lawyer and pursued my goal, graduating from Columbia University in 1905 and Columbia Law School in 1907. I came back to Buffalo to practice law, but I was restless--I wanted more excitement and the chance to serve my country. In 1912 I formed my own cavalry troop and fought in Mexican border skirmishes. When World War I came, I was there with the US Army's 165th Infantry in France. I was wounded three times during that war and was awarded many medals, including the Medal of Honor, for my service. I was a colonel when discharged.


Government Service

I also came to realize there was world outside the law office. Maybe this is when I formulated my attitude that became familiar to my OSS staff, "Sure, let's give it a try!" I wanted to give a lot in this world a try, especially in the service of my country.

I had various government assignments, such as assistant attorney general, and I served on various federal commissions and delegations. I even ran (unsuccessfully) for governor and lieutenant governor of New York. I founded a Wall Street law firm, Donovan, Leisure, Newton, Lumbard, and Irvine.

Still, there was more I needed to give a try! The door for intelligence work opened for me when I undertook my first secret mission while on my honeymoon in Japan in 1919. The United States Government asked me to take a two-month trip to Siberia to report on the anti-Bolshevik movement in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution. Well, it wasn't your usual honeymoon, but Mrs. Donovan was very understanding. The mission was successful and opened doors to many more missions for the government. I was heading down the intelligence path and I was loving it. I made numerous trips to Europe to see what was happening as the world moved toward war. I observed such events as Italy's battle against Ethiopia, the Spanish Civil War, and military matters in Czechoslovakia, the Balkans, and Italy. My trips brought me to the attention of President Franklin Roosevelt, who asked me to visit England to see if they could survive a German attack.

During one of my visits, I met with Col. Stewart Menzies, head of the British Secret Intelligence Service, and I also became acquainted with his American counterpart, William S. Stephenson. After some talks with both these men, I realized the country needed a centralized means of collecting foreign intelligence. I got President Roosevelt to create a job for me called Coordinator of Information.


The OSS Makes Its Mark

Little did I know, six months down the road we would lose thousands of men and women in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. My new office was too new to be of much use when it happened. We were working to get other government agencies to cooperate with us so we could be most effective. When the war began, my new office, now the Office of Strategic Services, was transferred to work with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. We were on our way!

I know a lot of people didn't have faith; they laughed at us, the ragtag crew. What did we know about intelligence gathering? Well, people do tend to laugh at innovators, the ones with new ideas and new ways of doing things. I gathered together a wide variety of people: historians, economists, lawyers, bankers, baseball players, actors, businessmen--people from all walks of life. I told them, "let's give it a try!" Very few had any experience as professional soldiers, intelligence officers, or even diplomats, but I had faith in each of them. We were trying something new--pushing it to the max, as you say--and I'm glad to say we did it!

We had so many successes during the war, so many brave people. I managed to persuade the government to make the OSS a permanent office, but I wasn't successful at first. Eventually President Harry Truman realized it was necessary to have an agency dedicated to collecting and giving unbiased foreign intelligence to our leaders to help them make wise decisions for our country.


Looking to the Future and the CIA

President Truman remembered Pearl Harbor, and the uncertainties of the postwar world were worrying him. I told him a central intelligence agency must be based on five things:

  1. Be able to obtain intelligence by overt and covert means.
  2. Provide intelligence guidance and determine intelligence objectives.
  3. Coordinate all the intelligence services.
  4. Have no police or law enforcement functions at home or abroad.
  5. Be an independent civilian agency.

Well, Harry listened to me, and in September 1947 he signed the National Security Act, which established the Central Intelligence Agency. The rest they say is history!

As for me, well after the war, I retired as a major general from active duty, served as an aide to the US chief prosecutor at the Nuremburg war crimes trials, returned to my private law practice for awhile, was Ambassador to Thailand, and I still was called upon for advice by the intelligence community. You didn't think I would just sit down and retire in a rocking chair, did you? After all, there still was a lot left to try!

 

Sources
O'Toole, G.J.A. Encyclopedia of American Intelligence and Espionage. New York and Oxford: Facts on File, 1988.

Factbook on Intelligence. Central Intelligence Agency, 1997.

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Virginia Hall

Marie Monin
Some have known me as "Marie Monin," "Germaine," "Diane," "Camille," and even "Nicolas" while I served as an intelligence agent during World War II, but you can call me Virginia. I was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on April 6, 1906, and I always had a love of languages. Little did I know my interest would lead me to faraway lands and grand adventures. I studied languages at Radcliffe, then Barnard College during 1924-26, finishing my studies in Paris and Vienna. I came home in 1929 to study French and economics at George Washington University, my sights set on a career in the US Foreign Service.


Virginia HallRealizing a Goal

I got a job as a clerk in the American Embassy in Warsaw, but a hunting accident in Turkey resulted in the loss of my left leg and almost cost me the chance at this career. I wanted to take the exam that would make me a Foreign Service Officer--a diplomat--but I was turned down because of my leg. I refused to be held back and eventually found my way to England, where I joined the British Special Operations Executive. The British taught me about weapons, communications, resistance activities, and security measures. My first assignment was to establish a spy network in Vichy, France. I helped prisoners of war escape and kept contact with the French underground. I did this during 1941-42. When Germany overran France, I escaped through Spain, returning to England, where King George VI honored me with a Member of the Order of the British Empire--not bad for a girl from Baltimore!


Serving With the OSS…

In 1943 I joined General Donovan's Office of Strategic Services for more adventures with the French Resistance. I became proficient in Morse code and radio operation, which made me invaluable. During the day, I appeared to be a milkmaid. However, at night I directed the Resistance Forces under me in many acts of sabotage and guerilla warfare. I relayed important information from haylofts via my radio to London. I was always keeping ahead of the Gestapo, whose leaders knew of me and wanted me captured. I never gave them the opportunity, my spirit and devotion to the cause carried me on. At the war's end, my country rewarded my efforts with the Distinguished Service Cross in 1945, the only female civilian in the war to receive this nation's highest military honor after the Medal of Honor!


…and the CIA

My career didn't end here, I later went on to work for the CIA, serving in many capacities as one of the first female operations officers. My love for intelligence work and serving my country never ended; there was always something new to learn. It was a whole new world after World War II. In fact, I would've kept on going forever if it hadn't been for the then-mandatory retirement age! I look back with pride not only at what I have done for my country, but also at the work of those who followed after me. I look to the new achievements the next generation will accomplish as they carry the torch into the future, and I hope that they will follow my example and never let anything hold them back!


Sources

Haines, Gerald K. "Virginia Hall Goillot, Career Intelligence Officer,"Prologue Quarterly of the National Archives. Vol. 26, No. 4 (Winter 1994): 249-260.

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Morris “Moe” Berg

Intelligence Officer, Linguist, Lawyer, and Baseball Player????
Morris "Moe" BergOK, maybe my credentials list isn't as long as Benjamin Franklin's, but you have to admit it's full of variety!

I was born in New York City on March 2, 1902, and I was fortunate enough to grow up and do two things in life I really enjoyed, playing baseball and being an intelligence officer! I majored in modern languages at Princeton University, where I played on a championship baseball team. I graduated in 1923 and got to play professionally for the Brooklyn Dodgers as a first baseman. Later, while I was attending Columbia Law School, I joined the Chicago White Sox. It was while I was with the Sox that I changed positions from shortstop to catcher. You might ask, "how could he do both at the same time?" Well, it was tough, but then they didn't call me the "brainiest man in baseball" for nothing! I think if you enjoy what you do and you work hard at it, you can do anything.


Trading Places

I got my law degree and was admitted to the New York State bar in 1928. I joined the law firm of Satterlee and Canfield and guess what--I still kept playing for the White Sox! I had the best of both worlds, but one day, while playing for Chicago, I was injured when my cleats caught in the dirt and tore ligaments in my right knee, and this would eventually limit my playing time and ability. I didn't let this bother me as I still had a good arm and lots of baseball savvy plus my love of the game. In 1931, after the injury, the Sox traded me to the Cleveland Indians. My next trade was to the Washington Senators. Little did I know that everything I had done in my life had prepared me for an entirely different game. It wasn't so much the team I got traded to, it was the location of the team, Washington, that would change my life forever. Because I was a baseball player with an unusual list of talents, I was always being invited to embassy dinners and parties; quite soon I became very well known in this town. I played with the Senators until 1934; that same year I toured Japan with an American all-star baseball team. Our government asked me to make some films of Tokyo Harbor and some military installations while I was there. I was getting my first taste of intelligence gathering. I was hooked!


Playing in the World League

The last baseball team I played for was the Boston Red Sox where I had the great honor of being the catcher in the inaugural Baseball Hall of Fame game when the Hall of Fame was dedicated in 1939. I played and coached for the Boston Red Sox until 1941, but I wanted to do more with my life and contribute more to my country. I got another chance when I was asked to tour Latin America for the Office of Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs, an agency set up to counter (German, Italian, and Japanese) propaganda in Latin America. My natural ability in languages helped me to meet government officials, journalists, and businessmen, and I collected much useful information from these meetings. My really big break came in 1943 when I was recruited into the Office of Strategic Services as a civilian employee. My first assignment was a secret mission to Yugoslavia to assess the strength of the two rival leaders there, Draza Mihajlovic and Joseph Broz Tito. I reported that Tito was stronger, and I was right. General William Donovan, the head of the OSS, then placed me on the AZUSA project. This project looked at the enemy's progress in developing nuclear weapons. I interviewed scientists in Rome two days after the city was liberated by US troops to see how far the Italians had progressed in their research. I also entered German-occupied Norway as part of an Allied effort to find and destroy a heavy-water plant. I bluffed my way past Russian guards in Czechoslovakia by holding up a letter with a large red star on it--this "document" was actually a piece of oil company stationary. I traveled to Switzerland and found out from a visiting German scientist not only how far along the Germans were in developing their weapons of mass destruction, but also the location of the German scientists. This information came in handy after the fall of Germany; Allied forces found the scientists and took them to England before Soviet forces could find them.


Life After OSS

I also managed to learn how far the enemy had progressed in high-speed aeronautics and bacteriological warfare. Learning about these things also made me realize how fast our world was changing and that it would never be the same after the war. I stayed with the OSS until it was dissolved in 1945. Later, I served on the staff of NATO's (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) Advisory Group for Aeronautical Research and Development. You never know what life is going to hold for you: one day you're a first baseman, next day a catcher; one day a Wall Street lawyer and next day a spy! Spying isn't always a career you prepare for, like playing professional baseball or being a lawyer. I guess that's what I liked about the OSS, so many different people with so many different backgrounds brought together into a profession with one common thread, their love of country.

Maybe I'm not in the Cooperstown Baseball Hall of Fame like so many of my baseball buddies, but I'm happy I had the chance to play pro ball and am especially proud of my contributions to my country. Perhaps I couldn't hit like Babe Ruth, but I spoke more languages than he did!


Sources

O'Toole, G.J.A. Encyclopedia of American Intelligence and Espionage. New York and Oxford: Facts on File, 1988.

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Historical Document
Posted: Apr 15, 2007 12:04 PM
Last Updated: Jun 19, 2013 05:37 PM