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The Journal Gazette

Thursday, December 01, 2016 10:00 pm

Bill passes to give medals to WWII spy unit

Washington Post

WASHINGTON – A bill honoring a World War II-era intelligence service that served as the precursor to the CIA passed in Congress on Wednesday after a months-long holdup and despite the legislation’s overwhelming bipartisan support.

The bill, after it is signed into law by President Barack Obama, will bestow the Congressional Gold Medal on the aging veterans of the Office of Strategic Services, or OSS. Although the bill had more than 320 co-sponsors in the House, a new set of congressional rules that prevented groups, as opposed to individuals, from receiving the medal kept it from passing until those rules were waived last month. A companion bill in the Senate passed in March.

The rules, which passed at the start of the 114th Congress, required a waiver that had to be proposed by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and approved by the rest of the leadership.

This year, the rule was waived so the medal, the highest civilian honor given by Congress, could be awarded to civil rights activists who led the 1965 "Bloody Sunday" march in Selma, Alabama. In years past, groups of World War II veterans such as the Tuskegee Airmen and the Navajo "code talkers" were awarded the medal.

It is unclear why it took so long for the waiver, known as a "suspension of the rules," to be approved. The current iteration of the House bill was proposed in November 2015 by Rep. Robert Latta, R-Ohio. Latta had proposed a similar bill in 2013.

"Honoring veterans of the OSS with a Congressional Gold Medal will ensure that their heroic actions during one of our country’s most trying times will not be forgotten," Latta said in a statement. "Their actions played an important role in winning the war and saved countless American lives in the process."

Founded in 1942 and led by Gen. William Donovan, the "Glorious Amateurs," as he called the OSS, were responsible for cloak-and-dagger operations throughout World War II, including sending operatives into Nazi Germany.

After the war, the OSS was dissolved, but in 1947 what remained of its infrastructure became the foundation for the CIA. Other branches of the OSS responsible for specific types of clandestine operations became early iterations of elite military units such as the Green Berets and Navy SEALs.