Honoring the Hair-Raising Heroics Of Second World War Intelligence Agents

Forget about the derring-do of spy James Bond. The successful mission by John Billings in dropping by parachute three Office of Strategic Services (OSS) spies during WWII make 007 seem a wimp by comparison.

In February 1945, Billings, then a lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Corps and a B-24 Liberator pilot flew his airplane into a drop zone, a frozen lake, 10,000 feet in altitude in the towering Austrian Alps, in a valley that drained into the Brenner Pass connecting Italy and Austria. The location was critical to the Nazi forces, and they had positioned anti-aircraft weapons so that they could shoot down Allied airplanes.

Billings and other former servicemen were honored recently by the OSS Society, an organization that includes military and Special Operations groups, former members of the OSS and current members of U.S. intelligence.

As Billings’ B-24 approached the landing zone, severe downdrafts pushed the aircraft down 6,000 feet in under thirty seconds. He was able to position the plane approximately 300 feet over the frozen water so the three-man team could make a safe jump.

Once on the ground, German-born naturalized American Frederick Meyer led Hans Wynberg, a Dutch-born Jewish man, and Franz Weber, a disaffected Austrian officer, to Innsbruck a short distance away.

Meyer posed as a German officer and sent information concerning Nazi troop movements until the end of the war. In future interviews, he said his motivation was to take personal action against the Third Reich regime by killing Nazis, The Washington Post reported.

Also recognized was Gaetano Rossi and Caesar Daraio, former sergeants who were a part of operational groups composed of Italian American volunteers, for their efforts in promoting the Allied cause during the Second World War. Also honored was David Cohen, CIA director of operations and a senior intelligence executive with the New York City Department, and former Air Force chief of staff, General Norton A. Schwartz.

The OSS Society is promoting the passage of proposed legislation honoring wartime spies, which has not received the support of Congress. The proposal, which would honor living OSS members with the Congressional Gold Medal, is stalled in the House of Representatives.

After retiring from the U.S. armed forces, Billings continued flying as a commercial pilot. At age 93, he continues to fly a Cessna-made Cutlass. The majority of the time he flies mercy flights for patients requiring medical care.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE