(CNN) – When you get your haircut, make sure its enemy area style, the hands must look as if they’ve done the work, every scar must conform to your cover story.
These World War II training films could be taken right from a spy thriller, but the dangerous missions and secrecy of the military intelligence agency they were made for were all too real.
The Office of Strategic Services, or the OSS was the 1940s precursor to the modern CIA, the Navy Seals and U.S. Special Forces command. Its members were tasked with some of the most important and covert assignments in the war.
Capt. John Billings of the Office of Strategic Services, said, “We weren’t even supposed to mention that we were with OSS, the less people that know the safer it is for all of us. I was a good boy. I didn’t talk about it to anybody.”
Now more than seven decades later, with the help of the OSS society, legislation finally might pass to recognize members of the OSS, such as captain John Billings with a Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor.
Capt. Billings noted, “To me it means that at least somebody thinks we did a good job.”
Billings had already flown countless bombing missions for the U.S. army during World War II when he was recruited to the OSS at age 21. His assignment was to fly operatives and other agents and supplies to drop zones within enemy territory, some marked in the snow with letters.
Billings said, “We weren’t supposed to learn their names. Occasionally we would drop ‘Joes.’ Everybody’s name that got on that was not going to come back with us was named Joe. You as a single plane were probably shortening the war much more than hundreds of planes just dropping bombs hoping to hit a factory or something of that sort. The OSS was very powerful and we liked it!”
Billings says perhaps his most daring mission was Operation Green-up in 1945.
He flew three “Joes” deep into the Austrian alps to parachute out behind enemy lines and gather information on the Nazis.
Two of the men were Jewish, including the late German-born spy Fred Mayer, a close friend of Billings, whose work inspired the film Inglorious Basterds. Billings noted that the film’s fictional portrayal missed the real bravery and aptitude of OSS members such as Mayer.
He said, “These people, especially the people who went out of the airplane, they were going into unknown things and they had, especially Fred, they had chutzpah.”
The kind that congress may finally honor, though much too late for far too many of members of this greatest generation.
Billings concluded, “I would have liked to have had this medal knowing that he was going to get one too.”