Man awarded Congressional Gold Medal for WWII spy work
MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. (AP) – Curtis Glenn sits motionless in his wheelchair as he recalls his years of military service the U.S. government had long sought to keep secret.
He stares past the silver CIA retirement medal for his 26 years of commitment, past the Congressional Gold Medal he received a few weeks ago, and past the moments unfolding around him at The Palms – the Mount Pleasant assisted living facility he calls home.
“Curtis,” his caregiver Susan Batla whispers. “We want you to tell us your story.”
His eyes widen. At 96, Glenn sometimes tells his wartime stories out of order, but he always wants to talk if someone is willing to listen.
For most of his life, Glenn was not allowed to discuss his assignments during World War II for the Office of Strategic Services with anyone, not even his own children. The OSS was the nation’s first modern intelligence agency and a precursor to the CIA.
“OSS? Oh So Secret,” Glenn said, his mouth curling into a smile.
During his time with the agency, Glenn was assigned to a special unit that created cover stories and documentation for agents to be dropped into occupied France or Germany. He would go on to serve as a liaison officer to MI6, Britain’s foreign intelligence service.
“We were going to beat those Germans, and we were going to do it with knowledge,” Glenn said. “We were just ordinary people, ordinary Americans, doing extraordinary things because we love our country.”
Now, 73 years after the war, Glenn is opening up after he and other OSS veterans were awarded a special Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor given by Congress.
It was a long time coming. Since 2013, advocacy groups have pushed to get congressional recognition for the wartime spies who put themselves in harm’s way to secure an Allied victory. Founded and led by Gen. William “Wild Bill” Donovan, the OSS employed about 13,000 civilians and service members at its height.
A bill to honor these secret heroes was introduced to do that in 2013, where it would stall in the House, be reintroduced in 2015 and finally pass in the fall of 2016.
Last month, congressional leaders gathered in Washington to present the medal to living members of the OSS, but Glenn could not attend. Two weeks ago, he got his medal in the mail. He said he cried when it arrived.
“My heart has been with the OSS for a long, long time,” Glenn said. “So this means a whole lot to me.”
Today, fewer than 200 members of the OSS are believed to still be alive.
Glenn would later go on to serve in the CIA as an intelligence agent in multiple wars, including Vietnam.
Glenn’s son, Phil Glenn, said his father is his hero. Because of his father’s service, it would inspire him to serve in the Coast Guard on active duty for 21 years.
“He never did it for recognition. He did it because that’s what he believes in. He’s very patriotic and that’s drove him most of his life: Fighting for our country and fighting for democratic values,” Phil Glenn said.
Partway through the interview, the intelligence agent grabbed his wallet and pulled out a plastic card with a sepia-toned photo of himself in uniform on it.
The words OSS are printed at the top of the card and, in red ink, his identification number, 109, is printed at the bottom. He signed his name on the back.
Glenn said he always carries it with him.