MARIETTA, Ga. — The first director of the Office of Strategic Services at the start of World War II was looking for a unique combination of character traits to outfit a new team of combatants during World War II.
“We need Ph.D.s that can win a bar fight.”
Gen. William “Wild Bill” Donovan’s description was apt as he began assembling a force that could outwit and outmuscle the enemy.
In Marietta, Frank A. Gleason fit the bill.
Fresh out of Penn State University with a degree in chemical engineering, Gleason was young, fit and ready to serve his country fighting the Empire of Japan.
On his 24th birthday — Sept. 24, 1944 — he found himself in the plains of southern China as commander of a small band of troops whose mission was to create havoc and hamper the Japanese troops stationed in that country during WWII.
Gleason said that today his unit would be regarded as a “trained band of terrorists.” In carrying out their mission, the men of Gleason’s OSS command blew up more than 100 bridges, wrecked rail lines, destroyed communication systems and caused general destruction for the Japanese Army.
Seventy-four years later, these heroes received their medals. There are fewer than 100 members from the OSS ranks left. Gleason, 97, a resident of Sterling Estates of West Cobb, is among the latest to receive a Congressional Gold Medal — the highest civilian honor that can bestowed.
After two years of discussions in Washington, House Speaker Paul Ryan officially presented the medal to the Office of Strategic Services on March 21.
“I got a phone call from the president of the OSS Society, Charlie Pinck, that he was sending me my medal through the mail. I received it a couple weeks ago,” said Gleason. “I am extremely honored and never expected anything like this. I would say it was the icing on the cake for my 30 years of military service in the United States Army.”
Gleason was recruited into the OSS by fellow Penn State University Phi Kappa Psi fraternity brother Charlie Parkin. After being trained at the OSS training camp in the Catoctin Mountains in Maryland, he was sent to England to demolition school.
The OSS was dissolved after World War II, and Gleason returned to the U.S. Army’s Corps of Engineers. He served during the Korean War, building anti-aircraft installations in Alaska over fears that the Russians might attack there.
During the Vietnam War, Gleason was in charge of an Army supply installation at Cam Ranh Bay located on an inlet on the South China Sea. His crew sent supplies to 49,000 troops fighting the enemy in the jungles of Vietnam.
“I would spend $82 million a month on supplies to support my troops,” said Gleason.
The OSS, which is the predecessor of the CIA, recruited an interesting mix of members. Julia Child, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg, Western film director John Ford and German born actress and singer Marlene Dietrich all served in the spy agency.
The exploits of the clandestine crew was the topic of Teddy White’s book, “The Mountain Road.” The book later became a movie in 1960 starring Jimmy Stewart who played a character based on Gleason’s OSS service. Gleason served as a technical adviser for the film.
He retired from Army in 1971 as a full colonel.
“Who would ever dream that at 97 years old, I would get a Congressional Gold Medal,” he said. “I am over-awed.”