Forerunner to the Central Intelligence Agency conducted secret missions behind enemy lines
It was an occasion that inspires what movies are made of and, in this case, even a movie star did a walk-on.
After seventy-five years, twenty of the surviving one-hundred World War II veterans made the trip to Washington D.C. on a snowy day in March. Representing those that served the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), they received the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Congressional Gold Medal.
A precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the OSS was a wartime intelligence agency of the United States during WWII formed to coordinate espionage activities behind enemy lines for all branches of the United States Armed Forces.
Oakland, California native Andrew Mousalimas was one of those heroes in attendance. “It was thrilling to receive the coveted Congressional Gold Medal,” said Mousalimas, now 93. He was just 18 when he and four of his California childhood friends (Nick Cominos, Tom Georgalos, Alex Phillips, Perry Phillips) joined a special battalion of Greek American descent. The Greek/American Operational Group (aka Greek/USOG) was part of the Ethnic Operational Groups which also included France, Italy, Norway, and Yugoslavia. There were also USOGs in Burma and China.
Their multi-faceted mission, as noted by the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, was to organize, train, and equip local resistance organizations, and to conduct ‘hit and run’ missions against enemy-controlled roads, railways, and strong points, or to prevent their destruction by retreating enemy forces.
“Not one of the 196 Greek/USOG volunteers, including four of five California Five, was in attendance to receive the medal they deservedly earned,” he shared. “We knew each other as youngsters and volunteered for hazardous duty behind enemy lines in Greece.”
The Greek/USOG’s were infiltrated behind enemy lines into occupied Greece and Yugoslavia. “We were told it would be a one-way trip. Not one was required to go,” he said. “They told us that we should expect ninety percent casualties. That was not a deterrent for me or any other member of our unit.”
His unit worked with British commandos and Greek partisans, and their heroism was not revealed until more than 45 years after their last battle, reported the San Francisco Chronicle. “It was one of the best kept secrets of war,” Mousalimas said. “The unit confirmed in my lifetime what determination and devotion was to duty. These guys (Greek/USOGs) were the toughest men and best-trained unit in the Army.”
On March 21, 2018, the leaders of the U.S. House and Senate presented a Congressional Gold Medal in honor of the members of the OSS for their extraordinary contribution to victory in WWII. “They passed on a sense of duty and daring to today’s intelligence professionals,” remarked House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI). “They preserved the spirit of freedom of our children. And so: for the men and women of the OSS, those glorious amateurs who struck a decisive blow to fascism, the United States Mint has struck a Gold Medal, which we present now on behalf of a grateful nation.”
“Every man knew what he had committed to do when he volunteered for the OG, and this is the inspiration that I hang on to in life,” added Mousalimas.
One of the highlights was having his two daughters Eugenia Ahlas and Paula Gassoumis, and son James, join him for the ceremony. Later that evening, he had one more. Suddenly art imitated life as actor Harrison Ford was discovered dining in the same restaurant.
Fans of his Indiana Jones movies may recall that in the 2008 film, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, it was revealed that Jones’ character was recruited by the OSS during WWII attaining the rank of Colonel in the U.S. Army. The two men embraced.
Now that was a fitting finale to a day that was seventy-five years in the making.
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Email the author: Frosene Phillips