In the book of Isaiah, it is written that the Lord said, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us.” The prophet Isaiah responded, “Here am I Lord; send me.”
Today, we honor those who were killed in action while serving in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). We honor the 125 selfless Americans who answered the call and said, “Here am I Lord; send me.”
These patriots included men like Lieutenant James H. Gaul. Born in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, Lieutenant Gaul was the son of an organist and choirmaster who went on to attend St. Albans Preparatory School in Washington, D.C., where he played football. After graduating from Harvard University, he pursued a Ph.D. in anthropology and traveled around Europe and the Middle East to conduct fieldwork. He was fluent in six languages, became a master linguist, and taught in Paris and at Brooklyn College.
Lieutenant Gaul joined the OSS as a member of the U.S. Naval Reserve while stationed in Cairo shortly after World War II began. Due to his linguistic skills and deep regional expertise, he was asked to serve on the prestigious DAWES mission to support resistance activities, set up intelligence networks, and rescue downed airmen behind enemy lines in Western Slovakia. Reports indicate that Lieutenant Gaul was essential to the team’s survival after its retreat into the mountains. Drawing on his language skills, he led scouting parties, purchased food from local farmers, and assisted the wounded. But after being wounded and captured by the Germans on December 26, 1944, Lieutenant Gaul and several of his OSS comrades were captured, sent to a concentration camp, and executed. His remains were never recovered.
In many ways, Lieutenant Gaul’s background reminds me of many officers and analysts in the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, also known as INR, which I’m honored to lead. As a direct descendent of the Research and Analysis Branch of the OSS, INR has long prided itself on upholding the legacy of this iconic service through its commitment to developing deep expertise on the full range of foreign policy issues. Like Lieutenant Gaul, dozens of our officers hold Ph.Ds and are fluent in multiple languages. Many have lived and served abroad or have prior military service. Simply put, Lieutenant Gaul’s legacy endures in institutions like INR.
Today, the world is at another inflection point. And once again, America is leading the contest for the future of our world. From the People’s Republic of China to Russia, autocrats are seeking to undermine democracy and upend the rules-based international order that men like Lieutenant Gaul died fighting to protect. But as President Biden reminds us, “These competitors mistakenly believe democracy is weaker than autocracy because they fail to understand that a nation’s power springs from its people.”
As the United States defends democracy around the world, we draw strength and inspiration from the stories of the OSS members we are gathered here to honor this solemn morning. On behalf of the Department of State, I would like to read a letter to the OSS Society from our 71st Secretary of State, Antony Blinken:
“On the occasion of the dedication of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, I would like to recognize on behalf of the U.S. Department of State the extraordinary sacrifices and contributions the OSS made during World War II.
I especially want to honor the 125 OSS members for whom this memorial is dedicated who paid the ultimate sacrifice in service to the Nation. The contributions of these brave Americans, as well as the nearly 13,000 men and women who served in the OSS, played a vital role in generating intelligence, informing diplomacy, cultivating popular resistance, and conducting special operations to enable American victory during World War II.
In many ways, the OSS legacy endures in the institutions it spawned – the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), the Central Intelligence Agency, and U.S. Special Operations Command. At the State Department, INR honors the OSS legacy every day by speaking truth to power and providing strategic intelligence to empower US diplomacy.
On behalf of a grateful Department, I extend my deepest gratitude for the honorable service and contributions of the OSS members who gave their lives in defense of the values, ideals, and freedoms we all cherish. May their service and sacrifice continue to be an inspiration for those who follow in their footsteps.”