~ Discovering Your Family's Past To Shape Your Future ~
My great-uncle passed away a few weeks ago. He and I had bonded over my budding teenage interest in HAM radio – a connection to the rest of the world that existed before the internet – which he had been into for most of his life. Getting into genealogy when I was older, I decided it would be fun to see if I could get his World War 2 service record, but of course started asking questions of the family before I did. It was only then that I realized I had stumbled upon a great secret.
My great-uncle had been in the Army Signal Corps, and he was gifted with gadgets and technology of all types. In fact, he made his career in them after the war. But his 1-page military record says he had “no branch assignment.” Hmmm. As I heard bits and pieces of information about his military service from my family, combined with my knowledge of his technical skills and proclivities, I suddenly realized that my great-uncle had been in the OSS!
During World War 2, the United States formed the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) – precursor to today’s somewhat beleaguered CIA – to coordinate its spying on the Axis Powers. It was made up elements of the Navy, Army, State Department and others.
Most of the OSS records have been declassified today, including the personnel rosters. So of course, I had to verify my hunch. Sure enough, I found his name on the official OSS personnel list, available for free here: http://www.archives.gov/iwg/declassified-records/rg-226-oss/personnel-database.pdf. If you think one of your ancestors or relatives who served in World War 2 might have been in the OSS, you can search for their name in the personnel database to find out! A good indicator would be a missing or blank military personnel record, or one that assigned them to a unit that doesn’t match with what little you know they did. A great resource to learn more about the OSS and see artifacts, get recommended books, and more is The OSS Society, http://www.osssociety.org/index.html.
In some ways, I feel confident that my great-uncle would never have breathed a word of this even if I had asked him. His own family, to the best of my knowledge, had no idea he was in the OSS. They all thought he was in the Army. Which, frankly, was a great cover for him. But I do have a tiny, lingering doubt – what if I HAD asked him about it? Would he have said anything? Now all I can do is glean his experiences from his personnel record and the books written about the organization. I can hardly wait to get a copy of his full personnel record!
Don’t miss out on your opportunity to ask those questions of your relatives and ancestors! Once they are gone, their stories go with them.