The Office of Strategic Services Memorial: Honoring the Forerunner of Today's CIA
As another year begins, it is a good time to reflect on the past and goals for the future. At CIA there are many memorials and exhibits that serve as a reminder of both the progress the Agency has made as well as the human costs of that intelligence mission over the years. The Office of Strategic Services Memorial at CIA headquarters is one example. It reminds CIA employees of how American intelligence began, the sacrifices their World War II predecessors made, and the on-going need of dedication to the Agency’s mission.
The outbreak of war in Europe in September 1939 prompted President Franklin D. Roosevelt to ask for greater coordination by the military and civilian intelligence arms. On July 11, 1941, the President appointed William J. Donovan to tackle the problem as the Coordinator of Information (or COI), the head of a new civilian office attached to the White House. The office was the nation’s first peacetime, independent intelligence organization.
The COI was reorganized and renamed as the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), in June 1942. Its purpose was to collect and analyze intelligence from around the world and get it to the policymakers who need it to make important decisions about foreign policy and military commanders guiding the nation’s armed forces.
Many brave men and women joined the OSS. At its peak, the OSS had about 13,000 employees, 7,500 of which served overseas. Some OSS officers made the ultimate sacrifice when they died in the line of duty.
With the help of OSS intelligence, the Allies were victorious over the Axis powers. The OSS is also credited with changing American military and intelligence thinking forever.
The OSS Memorial — which honors OSS officers killed during World War II — is situated on the south wall of the Original Headquarters Building lobby. It consists of:
- A single star,
- The inscription “In honor of those members of the Office of Strategic Services who gave their lives in the service of their country,”
- A statue of Maj. Gen. William J. Donovan, and
- The book of honor, which lists the names of the 116 OSS fallen.
The star and the inscription were carved into the wall by Tim Johnston, who also carves the stars for the CIA Memorial Wall. The statue of Donovan was commissioned by former Director of Central Intelligence William J. Casey. It was sculpted by Lawrence M. Ludtke and dedicated to the Agency on October 26, 1988. The complete OSS Memorial — with its single star and the OSS Book of Honor — was dedicated on June 12, 1992 in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the OSS.
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