Roger Hall; Memoirist of World War II Espionage
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Roger Hall, 89, who wrote "You're Stepping on My Cloak and Dagger," a wry memoir about World War II spycraft that became a cult classic in intelligence circles and appealed to a wide audience for its irreverence, died July 20 at his home in Wilmington, Del. He had congestive heart failure.
Mr. Hall's 1957 bestseller, dedicated "to whom it may concern," was based on his time in the Office of Strategic Services, the wartime precursor to the CIA. The appeal was in Mr. Hall's narrative as a man of nerve battling the enemy and his pompous superiors.
Hayden Peake, a former Army intelligence and CIA agent and an authority on the literature of intelligence, called the book "one of the best OSS memoirs," saying it was written by "someone who could perform [dangerous work] but was a kind of a free spirit."
Critic Charles Poore, writing in the New York Times in 1957, called the memoir "the funniest (unofficial, that is) record of rugged adventure in the O.S.S."
The son of a Navy captain, Mr. Hall grew up in Annapolis. He said the OSS book was not meant to show "contempt for authority, but bridling at authority."
Mr. Hall described himself as an ideal match for the OSS, which was interested less in formal military expertise than in recruiting agents who could use their wits and innovation in sticky situations to win the war.
"There were no parameters, and you did what the hell you wanted, up to legal and military limits," he told The Washington Post in 2002. "The more creative you were, the more they liked it."
One of his favorite OSS stories involved a colleague sent to occupied France to destroy a seemingly impenetrable German tank at a key crossroads. The French resistance found that grenades were no use.
The OSS man, fluent in German and dressed like a French peasant, walked up to the tank and yelled, "Mail!"
The lid opened, and in went two grenades.
Mr. Hall learned guerrilla warfare at Congressional Country Club, which the OSS had taken over for training, and infiltrated a Philadelphia circuit breaker plant on a test run. He not only got a job at the plant, but the handsome trainee also wangled a date with a woman in the personnel office who happened to be the company vice president's daughter.
His made-up identity included a falsehood about being wounded while parachuting into Sicily, and the vice president was so taken with his bravery that he invited Mr. Hall to speak at a company war bond rally. He did the job so well that news of his rousing speech was published in a local paper.