A bill that would honor members of the World War II-era organization that was the forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency as well as some of the U.S. military’s most elite units has — despite broad bipartisan support — stalled in Congress.
The bill would bestow the Congressional Gold Medal on the few remaining veterans of the Office of Strategic Services, or OSS, many of whom who are in their 80s and 90s. The bill has 320 co-sponsors in the House, and a companion bill was unanimously passed in the Senate in March. The hold-up, however, appears to center on a recently passed congressional rule that prevents groups or organizations — as opposed to individuals — from being awarded the medal.
Before the most recent session of Congress, groups of World War II veterans such as the Tuskegee Airmen — the famed group of African American aviators who fought in the skies over Europe — have received the medal, and earlier this year the rule was waived so the medal could be awarded to civil rights activists who led the 1965 “Bloody Sunday” march in Selma, Ala. Yet for the aging members of the OSS, a waiver has remained elusive, with the House’s Republican leadership largely silent on why that has been the case.
The waiver, known as a “suspension of the rules,” must first be proposed by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and approved by the rest of the House’s senior leadership which would allow a bill to be passed by the House Financial Services Committee, chaired by Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.), and then be brought to the floor for a vote.
Hensarling’s office told the Dallas Morning News earlier this week that he “looks forward to voting in favor of the bill” and said he had nothing to do with the award’s limbo-like status.
A House leadership aide, who was not allowed to speak publicly on the matter, said in an email that the bill “violates conference rules and a waiver has not been considered and there is no timetable for consideration.”
The office of House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) deferred questions to McCarthy.
The current iteration of the bill was introduced last November by Rep. Robert E. Latta (R-Ohio). (In 2013, Latta had proposed a similar bill.) According to the Dallas Morning News, Latta plans to seek passage of the legislation before the 115th session of Congress begins in January and the bill has to be reintroduced.
“The effect the OSS has had in shaping our national security structure is unparalleled,” said Latta in a statement that was released when the bill was first announced in November. “I introduced this legislation to call upon Congress to collectively recognize these brave men and women for their efforts, and honor them for their extraordinary service on behalf of this great nation.”
In a statement released Monday, the Office of Strategic Services Society, a group that represents OSS veterans, said that if the bill is not passed before the 114th Congress adjourns, it “will die and some of the greatest heroes of the “Greatest Generation” will never be honored for their service.”
“General William Donovan said OSS personnel, who were drawn from every branch of the military, performed ‘some of the bravest acts of the war.’ Their bravery deserves to be recognized with a Congressional Gold Medal,” said OSS Society President Charles Pinck in the statement.
Started in 1942 and led by Donovan, who famously called the OSS his “glorious amateurs,” the organization was involved in covert operations around the world. Members of the OSS infiltrated Nazi Germany, trained resistance fighters in China and helped gather intelligence deep behind enemy lines. At the conclusion of the war, the OSS’s boat teams would slowly morph into the Underwater Demolition Teams that became the Navy SEALs. Other parts of the OSS would become the Army’s Special Forces Groups. At the conclusion of the war, the OSS was dissolved, but many of its veterans served in the Central Intelligence Agency when it was created.
In the front foyer of CIA headquarters, across from the wall honoring the agency’s dead since 1947, is a book listing the names of those who died serving with the OSS and a statue of Donovan.