The Office of Strategic Services (OSS) was created on June 13, 1942 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt who understood America's need for an intelligence service similar to Britain's Special Operations Executive (SOE). Its director was Major General William "Wild Bill" Donovan, a World War I Medal of Honor winner, the only person win our nation's four highest military honors, and the father of the CIA and US Special Forces. Donovan previously served as Coordinator of Information (COI), a predecessor organization to OSS, a position to which he had been appointed by Roosevelt in 1941.
Prior to his appointment at COI, Donovan served as an informal advisor to Roosevelt. Although unlikely allies given their political differences, Roosevelt and Donovan shared a common belief in the threat posed to America by Nazi Germany and recognized that the United Stated needed the capability to conduct unconventional warfare. Thus was born the OSS, a unique intelligence organization that would have a lasting impact on the national security of the United States during and after World War II. Even today, techniques first developed by the OSS are still in use by the US intelligence and special forces communities. In his farewell address, Donovan described the OSS as an "unusual experiment."
OSS was a perfect reflection of General Donovan's character and leadership skills: creative, visionary, brave, innovative, highly intelligent, experimental, a potent combination of brawn, brawn and bravado. He recruited an incredible array of talent from diverse backgrounds and gave them the freedom to accomplish difficult tasks using their imagination. Donovan encouraged OSS personnel to take risks - he described it as "calculated recklessness" - and constantly reminded OSS personnel that "you can't succeed without taking chances." He led by example, taking the same risks himself that he asked of others. He disdained bureaucracy and conventional thinking. His primary focus was to develop effective means to defeat the enemy. No idea was out of bounds.
OSS veteran Fisher Howe said it best: "If you define leadership as having a vision for an organization, and the ability to attract, guide and motivate followers to fulfill that mission, you have Bill Donovan in spades."
Although the OSS was disbanded by President Harry Truman in 1945, its remarkable legacy will never be forgotten.
To learn more about General Donovan and the Office of Strategic Services, please visit The OSS Society's website.