OSS Records Bristle With Details About Agents

By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 15, 2008

Before the CIA became the country's chief intelligence-gathering agency, the Office of Strategic Services worked worldwide to undermine the enemies of the United States during World War II. Though the OSS employed more than 24,000 Americans during the early 1940s, little has been known about the individual men and women who carried out the organization's secret missions.

Yesterday, the National Archives released nearly 750,000 pages of material contained in the OSS's previously secret personnel files, folders the CIA had blocked from public view until turning them over to archivists in College Park seven years ago. In them, the public can now get a glimpse into the wartime lives of those who served in the OSS, many of whom have been reluctant to share details of their secret missions.

Though some files contain but a few pages of payment records and promotions, others are filled with narratives of daring overseas feats and glowing appraisals of performance. Yellowed paper and hand-stamped pages evoke a nation at war when the world moved at a very different pace.

Fisher Howe, now 94, flipped through his personnel records yesterday and remembered his days as a special assistant to Gen. William J. Donovan, the OSS director. He reminisced about working in London, Corsica and in Ceylon -- now Sri Lanka -- where he trained agents for landings by sea.

"There were a lot of people working very hard in a very challenging time, and those people are here, in these records," Howe said.

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