The CIA Museum ... Artifacts: Letter from Richard Helms to His Son
The CIA Museum is home to many interesting artifacts associated with the Central Intelligence Agency, its predecessor the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), and foreign intelligence organizations. This, the seventh article in a series that explores the Agency’s unique history through its artifacts, examines a letter sent from former Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) Richard Helms to his son during World War II.
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One of the crown jewels of the CIA’s newly renovated OSS Gallery is a letter. The letter—a personal note from Helms to his three-year-old son—was written on a sheet of Adolf Hitler’s personal stationery.
“When we got it, the hair on our arms stood up,” said CIA Museum Director Toni Hiley.
The letter marks a significant point during World War II when Americans were celebrating the victory in Europe.
Helms, an officer in the OSS, somehow obtained a sheet of stationery from Hitler’s Bavarian mountaintop retreat. The letterhead features a gold-embossed swastika and the name Adolf Hitler. On it, Helms wrote a touching and eloquent note to his young son. Dated May 8, 1945 (Victory in Europe Day), the note began:
“Dear Dennis, The man who might have written on this card once controlled Europe—three short years ago when you were born. Today he is dead, his memory despised, his country in ruins.”
His words captured the meaning of the war, not only for the OSS, but for America and its allies.
Helms went on to serve in Berlin where, in the autumn of 1945, he slipped into the Russian zone of occupation to rummage through the ruins of Hitler’s office compound. There, he picked up another Hitler souvenir—a plate. A translation of the plate’s inscription reads, “The Chancellery of the Fuehrer.”
Helms’ son, Dennis, recently donated the note to the CIA Museum, and Helms’s widow donated the plate. Both are framed together and on display in the OSS Gallery.
Helms’ Journey from the OSS to the CIA
When World War II ended, President Harry S. Truman disbanded the OSS. For the next two years, Helms continued his career in intelligence with interim intelligence organizations—such as the Strategic Services Unit and the Central Intelligence Group—until the CIA was established in 1947. Within a few years of joining CIA, he had risen to the position of Chief of Operations in the Directorate of Plans—today’s National Clandestine Service.
During the next nine years, Helms continued to rise steadily at CIA, becoming Director of Plans in 1962 and Deputy Director of Central Intelligence in 1965.
In 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Helms to serve as Director of Central Intelligence. Helms held this position until 1973, when he left the Agency to serve as the US Ambassador to Iran. He died in 2002.
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