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Group preserves legacy of OSS, predecessor to CIA

Art Reinhardt of Great Falls, a former member of the U.S. Office of Strategic Services during World War II, looks through OSS memorabilia in his basement.
Art Reinhardt of Great Falls, a former member of the U.S. Office of Strategic Services during World War II, looks through OSS memorabilia in his basement. (Shamus Ian Fatzinger/fairfax County Times)
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By Gregg MacDonald
Fairfax County Times
Thursday, September 30, 2010

Art Reinhardt of Great Falls was in China on Aug. 6, 1945 -- the day the United States dropped the "Little Boy" atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan.

Although only 20 at the time, he already was keenly aware that his short service with World War II's Office of Strategic Services soon would be coming to an end.

The OSS -- the predecessor to the CIA and U.S. Special Operations Forces -- was formed in June 1942 by order of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

The agency's mission was to collect and analyze strategic intelligence requested by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and to conduct "special" operations outside the scope of other agencies.

"The OSS was the first centralized foreign intelligence agency in U.S. history and was organized along the lines of some of the chief responsibilities of CIA today: analysis, collection, counterintelligence and covert action," CIA spokeswoman Donna Weiss said.

Reinhardt, 85, was recruited by the OSS in May 1944, shortly after joining the U.S. Army Air Corps at 17.

After being recruited, Reinhardt received advanced OSS training as a radio operator and cryptographer at "Area C" in Prince William County -- a one-square-mile tract of heavily wooded land about five miles west of Quantico where the OSS trained its agents from 1942 to 1945. Today the training area is preserved as part of Prince William Forest National Park and is open to the public.

"From 1942 to 1945, the communications branch of the OSS used the area as a training facility for about 1,500 communications personnel learning international Morse code, ciphering, weapons, demolition, self-defense and physical training," Reinhardt said.

After three months of training, Reinhardt was deployed to China to provide intelligence targets for Air Force bombers attempting to disrupt the Japanese occupying forces that had taken control of key Chinese railways and seaports.

While in China, Reinhardt lived the life of a secret agent. He spent much of his time in remote forested areas, living off the land and being sure not to draw much attention from locals.

"As American agents in China, we had a bounty on our heads," he recalled. "It was rumored that Japanese soldiers were offered the equivalent of $50,000 to capture one of us."

Reinhardt decoded incoming communications and encoded outgoing messages, transmitting them from his portable SSTR-1 "suitcase" radio.

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