Dan Pinck was a recent graduate of Sidwell Friends School, the Quaker school in Washington, when he went to war.
He enlisted in the Army in 1942 before volunteering for the Office of Strategic Services, the World War II precursor to the CIA. He went to China, a country he knew primarily through a children’s book, “Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze,” that he had read when he was 12.
“What headquarters decided, ingeniously, is to find someone who is neither old enough or smart enough to be fearful,” Mr. Pinck said in a 2003 talk at Washington’s International Spy Museum. “I suited those qualifications.”
The OSS sent him to a village in southeast China called Hotien to report intelligence about enemy troop movements, weather patterns and possible bombing targets along the Japanese-held coastline 19 miles away.
He carried with him an array of supplies, including $1 million in cash to pay his Nationalist army assistants and boxes of condoms that he was told would also curry favor with the Nationalist officers. He dispensed the money through poker games, racking up intentional losses that allowed the Nationalists to save face while winning the money they needed for arms and food.
“I ran my own war and did what I wanted to do,” he told The Washington Post years later.
He also brought along his old Boy Scout manual, which proved useful in an unexpected way.
Mr. Pinck knew to be on the lookout for Japanese spies, and he grew concerned about the possibility that a Mata Hari was among them. One of his top aides had an Chinese girlfriend who expressed conspicuous interest in the scouting manual’s maps and codes. Her behavior raised his suspicions, and he pretended the book contained top-secret information.
Mr. Pinck and his men followed the woman to a tea shop, where they found her crouching in a corner. She rushed them, and they held her on the floor. The boyfriend searched her and found a page from the Boy Scout manual and an incriminating scroll with information about the OSS unit, Mr. Pinck wrote in his 2003 wartime memoir, “Journey to Peking.”
Mr. Pinck, 94, who after the war was a leg man for writer A.J. Liebling at the New Yorker magazine, held administrative and research jobs at Boston-area universities and did consulting work in marketing and education, died Feb. 10 at a nursing home in Belmont, Mass.
The cause was complications from Alzheimer’s disease, said his son Charles Pinck, president of the OSS Society, a group preserving the spy agency’s legacy.
Daniel Channing Pinck was born in Washington on Feb. 21, 1924. His mother was a teacher, and his father was a chemist. He was in his freshman year at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va., when he joined the Army — delighted, he told the Boston Globe, when orders arrived the day of a math test for which he was unprepared. He much preferred to fight the Axis powers than calculate the axis of a surface.
He found the transition to military discipline bumpy. When a sergeant shook him awake at 4:30 a.m. for reveille, he recalled to the Globe, Mr. Pinck told the man to go to hell, and the result was a day on KP, kitchen patrol. After being trained in meteorology and communications, he was shipped to India and assigned to a military police unit tasked with dragging Americans out of brothels. Tired of regulations and routine, he volunteered for the OSS.
He spent 18 months in China before returning home to complete his degree in 1946. He became a standout pitcher for the New Yorker’s softball team and said a highlight of his stint at the magazine was seeing writer J.D. Salinger cheer him from the sidelines.
Over the decades, Mr. Pinck wrote about Chinese-American relations for publications including the New Republic, the American Scholar and Encounter. The Naval Institute Press in Annapolis printed his memoir, 52 years after he had written it.
His wife, Joan Braverman Pinck, a college administrator and advocate for women in the workforce, died in 2018. In addition to their son Charles, of Washington, survivors include three other children, Alexandra Pinck of Cambridge, Mass., Anthony Pinck of Delray Beach, Fla., and Jennifer Pinck of Boston.
Mr. Pinck filled his homes with mementos of wartime service: Japanese swords, U.S. code books, a Siberian tiger skin and “one-time pads” for secret communications.
He told the Boston Herald in 1992 that one of his proudest memories of his OSS work was a mission he did not fulfill.
He was supposed to send back reports about potential targets in occupied China for the Allies to destroy, and he discovered that the Japanese were stockpiling gasoline at a school. But his translator, Shum Hay, told him of the potential for mass casualties of women and children if he called in an airstrike. He opted to advise against an aerial raid.
“You don’t win wars like that,” Mr. Pinck said of acts that turn the local population against your cause. “In the passing years, I’m more pleased by that than anything.”