Her friend Doris Bohrer would understand, but even so, McIntosh still hasn’t divulged everything about every World War II mission. Even though it turns out that Bohrer, 88, was an operative in the war, too: OSS, then CIA, just like McIntosh.
To most other residents of the retirement community in Northern Virginia, these two elegant, well-coiffed widows, Betty and Doris to everyone, are just part of the anonymous parade of aged men and women who play mixed bridge and talk about the brand-new heart and vascular center down the road, the day’s menu at the dining hall, and their pets.
What a curious resolution to it all: that although their paths never crossed during their undercover careers, McIntosh and Bohrer would find each other here, neighbors on the same street in the Westminster at Lake Ridge seniors village in Prince William County. Two women who wear the wedding rings of their dead husbands. Two women who laugh like girls when they reminisce, who are nearly inseparable.
McIntosh says she calls Bohrer almost every morning, just to make sure she’s still alive. Bohrer, for her part, can still drive and runs errands for her friend, who is, after all, eight years older and finds it less easy to get around.
“How’s it doing today, Betty?” Bohrer asks one recent weekday, stepping inside McIntosh’s living room, where paintings by a Japanese prisoner of war hang on the wall. Bohrer was bringing some medication for McIntosh, who had just had two teeth pulled.
“You’ve got the temperature setting in here at ‘off.’ You need it on ‘cool,’ ” Bohrer instructs McIntosh. “I’ve done that. Easy to do.” She adjusts the thermostat.
“What would I do without you, dear?” McIntosh says.
* * *
It was the early 1940s when Bohrer and McIntosh fell into jobs at the Office of Strategic Services, the nation’s first intelligence agency, created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and led by William “Wild Bill” Donovan, a Wall Street lawyer and World War I veteran. They were among the rarest of operatives, women working overseas during World War II.
In China, McIntosh, a “black propaganda” specialist, whipped up fake news stories to undermine the morale of the enemy — including an effort to convince the Japanese emperor’s soldiers that their wives were procreating with other men back home. Stationed in Italy, Bohrer analyzed aerial photographs of Germany, helping select sites to air-drop and rescue OSS officers behind enemy lines.
Bohrer, a Montgomery Blair High School graduate who yearned to fly airplanes, wanted to defend the country from another Pearl Harbor attack. So in 1942, she took the civil service exam.