World War Two veteran William Pietsch, a member of the famed Jedburgh operation which conducted guerrilla and espionage operations against the Germans in Nazi-occupied France, has passed away at age 94.
Then a lieutenant, he parachuted into France in 1944 leading a three-man team in a covert operation to smooth the way for Allied armies and assist the French Resistance in their fight against the Germans.
In total, close to 100 similar teams jumped into the night to drop behind enemy lines and organize airdrops of supplies and men, enabling the French Resistance to mount hit-and-run raids.
The Jedburghs are considered the forerunners of Special Forces in the U.S. Army. William Colby – Director of the CIA from 1973 to 1976 – was a member of the unit who led a team only a few months after D-Day.
The teams included Britons, Canadians, Americans, Free French fighters, enlisted men, and Belgian or Dutch members.
Pietsch’s unit in the Burgundy region aided the Free French in obtaining arms and ammunition and kept tabs on the whereabouts on Allied prisoners of war, held by German forces.
The number of surviving veterans of the Jedburgh mission is not accurately known. Charles Pinck, OSS Society presidents, said via email there might only be a few left now.
Pietsch graduated in 1943 from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, before volunteering for duty with the Office of Strategic Services, headed by “Wild Bill” Donovan, The Washington Post reported.
His post-war duties included learning to speak Russian and postings in at least 25 countries. He worked in Asia as a special warfare and operations officer, served in the Vietnam War and spent time in Cambodia as a defense and army attaché. In 1973 he retired.
A resident of Kensington, Md., he was a library volunteer at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Centre.
He is survived by his wife and four children.