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OSS Agents in Repose, After the Guns Fell Silent
A French collector has amassed a treasure trove of snap shots the agents took of themselves and local comrades in the summer of 1945
It’s hard to believe now, but at the outset of World War Two America had no organization in charge of synchronizing intelligence gathered by the military services and State Department, much an outfit less to wage unconventional warfare against Germany and Japan. It wasn’t until June 13, 1942, a little over six months after Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, that President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law the creation of the Office of Strategic Services, which by the end of the war three years later employed 13,000 people engaged in dirty tricks ranging from espionage to sabotage, codebreaking and psychological warfare.
Much of the OSS’s work in Europe was dedicated to helping local underground partisans attack German Nazi outposts and infrastructure and eliminate officials and collaborators, especially occupied France. When peace finally came in May 1945, the secret agents emerged from hiding to relax and celebrate with their allies and friends.
Luckily, we have photographs to memorialize them in repose.
Caroline Vagneron, who grew up in the Loire Valley, has long been fascinated by what went on in France and Germany during World War Two, as well as a love for collecting what she calls “vernacular photographs (photographs taken by amateur photographers for personal or family use).” Along the way, she acquired a treasure trove of personal snapshots that the OSS agents took of themselves and their local comrades at play in the summer of 1945, after the guns stopped firing.
“The pictures were taken sometime around 1945 and in France, which made them all the more attractive to me, as I was eager to understand what these American soldiers were doing, what their role was at that moment in time,” Vagneron told SpyTalk. “I had read a lot already about their role, seen movies too, but suddenly having access to these more personal stories made me curious. Who were these American soldiers? What were they doing here?”—especially, she wondered, “in the Loire Valley [and with] the people they were meeting in Bordeaux.”
Among those in the photos, she says, are OSS agents Philip Chadbourn, Vivian Suchard, Ben Welles, Gordon Merrick, June Nygaard, Sidney Lenington, Arnold Fawcus, Henry Finger and others unknown. Some went on to illustrious careers in the CIA, formed in 1947.
She doesn’t know who took these snapshots. The photographer doesn’t say beyond, “myself with…” But the scribblings on their backs was intriguing—”short, funny and rather unusual sentences, mysterious too…” she says, in some cases. “It immediately sounded like something I would like to investigate!”
We’re grateful she shared them with SpyTalk on this Memorial Day, 78 years later.
You can find her full OSS portfolio on her Liberty Square website.
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