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MY ORDERS were concise, with hygienic overtones:
"Report to the O.S.S. Wash."
With the inspiring words of the Commanding officer at Camp Plauche, Louisiana-"Never mind what I told you to do, you do what I tell you to do!"-still ringing in my ears, I flew to our nation's capital, found the proper building by a process of elimination in which the Bureau of Indian Affairs was runner-up, and presented my orders to a major who seemed supremely bored by it all.
He didn't bother to look up or return my salute. When I started to lean on the desk and read over his shoulder he frowned, put down the magazine, reached for my papers, and came to life in a hurry. They were Special Orders, signed in ink by one "George C. Marshall, Chief of Staff."
Suddenly I had found a friend. "How was your trip, Lieutenant Hall? Nice to have you with us. I think you'd better discuss these orders with Colonel Guyon."
He led me to him personally, handling me en route like a paper cup filled with acid. I began to wonder the minute we walked into the Colonel's office; it must have been the way he shook his head.
"So you're going over to the Office of Strategic Services, son?" This in a tone of voice generally used when the parish priest comes slowly into the death cell. Before I could answer, he asked, "Are you married, son?"
"No, sir," said I, smartly.
"None of them are," said the Colonel, mournfully.
"None of whom aren't what, sir?" I asked, not so smartly.
"None of the young officers who go over to the O.S.S. are married." These glad tidings came from the Major. Colonel Guyon shook his head again.
"No, they are all young, unmarried, junior officers." He made that combination of eight words sound like a pronouncement of doom. The conversation was terrifying me. I did what I could.
"Sir, I'm engaged."
"That doesn't count, son. Did you volunteer for this assignment?" He sounded as though he were trying to give me an out.
"Yes, sir." It was little more than a whimper.
"Well, in that case, good luck, son." He might as well have added, "There isn't any."
"Thank you, sir." I almost said "Dad."
He pulled himself together long enough to hand me a slip of paper and mumble, "Report here." I glanced at the address, it was across Constitution Avenue, a bit farther down. Trying to cheer the old boy up, I quavered, "I seem to be near you, Colonel, hope to see you again, sir."
That started him for fair. "Afraid not, Lieutenant. I've sent many a splendid young officer over there in the past two months, fine-looking fellows, and I've never seen one of them again, not one of them!"
He seemed convinced an ogre was eating those "fine-looking fellows" as fast as he sent them across the avenue. It was all too much for me. I blurted out a hasty "Thank you, Colonel Guyon," and ran.
The episode had the charm of an intermission at a wake, and my mind began reading O.S.S. as Officers Suicide Section. I thought briefly of Aunt Louise's habit of saying, "Dear me, this is dreadful." The last time I'd heard it was at Pimlico when her choice was running last at the head of the stretch. I was thinking of horses at the time, because when death is a certainty horses and dogs are put away painlessly. Dogs are man's best friend. My best friend could put away only one thing painlessly. This involved but basically sound line of reasoning led me to one of the District of Columbia's better bars.
The soda must have dulled my senses. I became noble, and decided the least I could do was report to the organization which had rescued me from the swamps of Louisiana. That may well have been a mistake. If I hadn't reported back in '48, they probably wouldn't have missed me to this day.
The Office of Strategic Services was located midway between a brewery and a Naval hospital which catered to mental cases. During my search for Headquarters, I was thrown out of the brewery and refused admittance to the hospital. It may have been the other way around. Eventually, I wound up outside "Q" Building, one of a maze of temporary government woodpiles, some of which dated from the War of 1812.
I started up the walk, and stopped short at the sight of the largest man and the largest dog I had ever seen, apparently keeping each other at bay. The dog, a Great Dane, was lying in front of the door. The man, whose national origin wasn't obvious but who looked as though he'd come straight from Mount Olympus, was the uniformed guard on duty at the same door. Either was more than enough to keep that threshold inviolate.
I was trying vainly to find a sticking point whereon to screw my courage when a tiny old lady trotted out the door, headed down the walk, and in passing gave the dog a solid kick in the butt.
"Move, you big ox!" The monster, which could have diced her with its tail, looked up indignantly, lumbered over to the lawn, collapsed, and went back to sleep.
If she could handle Big Ox, I figured I should at least try the guard. I went over, chattered a few inane questions, showed him the Colonel's note, and was ushered into the building. He picked up a phone, which promptly disappeared in the vastness of his mitt, and began to mutter things. Whatever went on didn't seem to make life any more bearable for him. Finally he hung up and announced that someone was coming down to collect me and take me elsewhere. I asked where. No answer, only a withering look.
I seemed to be developing a tremendous capacity for ice water, so I started down the hall toward a fountain.
"Come back here!"
He roared it rather slowly, and I slid back safely before he really finished. Then he warned me, in a deadly voice, that no one, absolutely no one, moved around "Q" Building without one of two things-an O.S.S. pass or an escort. I had only a great desire to blow the joint.
In a few moments a good-looking blonde, whose figure seemed oddly unbalanced, came around the corner. There had to be a reason for my fascinated stare, so I asked if she was an escort. She said she was, but not mine, and went over to talk to the guard. I still had designs on the water fountain, so when the lopsided charmer came past again, I humbly asked her to escort me there and back.
We went to the fountain together, came back together, somewhere along the line she mentioned owning Big Ox, and we haven't been seen together since. I never found out why her chest looked like a flight of stairs.
My escort was a long time coming, which gave me an opportunity to drowse and reflect a bit. Things had been happening quickly of late.
It all started while I was rotting away in Louisiana, a state ideally suited for doing just that. I had been stationed at Camp Plauche, which has been conservatively described as "a place where it takes two alligators to last through the summer."
My assignment was giving basic training to Transportation Corps recruits. Being an Infantry officer, I couldn't understand why the Army Ground Forces had farmed out the cream of its March, 1943, crop sixty strong to the Army Service Forces in the first place. It didn't take me long to find out it couldn't have mattered less whether or not second lieutenants understood such things.
My weekly requests for transfer were a waste of time second to none. I'd have done as well making paper airplanes and sailing them towards Headquarters. Someone therein had dedicated his life to keeping me around. I'd come to suspect the Regimental Commander, who was queer for softball and could ill afford to lose from his team-corps champions-a left fielder who was currently hitting .375. I was tagged essential, and seemed destined to stay at least until the season ended.
Since it wasn't even half finished yet, I said, "The hell with that, and you too, sir," loudly and at regular intervals, every week end with the emphasis on late Saturday night. I finally yelled so loudly and wrote so many letters that one of the O.S.S. body snatchers got wind of my discontent.
Captain King's letter came at a time which might be called "most propitious." I had lost a fly ball in the sun, made a throwing error, and struck out three times in one game. The Regimental Commander was convinced that I'd been bought and the fix was on. He took to listening to his adjutant, Lyin' Felix, a man who earned his nickname on pure merit and no friend of mine. I seemed destined to go to the rifle range at Slidell, Louisiana, where no combination of alligators had ever been known to last past six weeks.
When word from the O.S.S. did arrive, it was along the lines of something one might hear on an "Inner Sanctum" program. "We are looking for officers who want to volunteer ... overseas duty of a secret and highly hazardous nature ... close combat ... excellent physical shape and a high degree of endurance are necessary ... background with field training ... work that is similar to commando operations ... fill out the enclosed forms if you are interested."
I was interested. The forms went back to Washington an hour later, special delivery airmail. I didn't lie, but I did exercise a selection of facts. That night at the Officers Club I drank a toast as best I could with crossed fingers.
Five days later I uncrossed them. My orders were on their way, in a week I was to leave Camp Plauche and report to the O.S.S. The Regimental Commander saw no point in arguing with General Marshall over the disposition of my pale white body, and in a burst of generosity occasioned by my joyfully belting a game-winning double, he gave me four days' leave, with the stipulation that I spend it in New Orleans so that I could play in one more game the day before I left.
Outside of the first letter, I didn't know what the O.S.S. was or what it did. No one at Camp Plauche had ever heard of the outfit, and my discreet inquiries produced a succession of blank looks. I reread the part about "work similar to commando operations" and decided that was a fair trade for Louisiana any day.
News of my imminent departure occasioned a display of mixed emotions among my friends. They were sorry to lose such an outstanding member of their society, but all agreed it was nicer to see me go north than into exile at Slidell, the certain alternative in case of a batting slump or sore arm. Those last four nights I led what is known as "a full life." A compassionate God saw that the final softball game was rained out, it being an afternoon when I couldn't have hit the ground with my hat.
When it came time to pour me on the plane, everyone swarmed out to the airport. My three roommates swept all before them in their rush to reach center stage. Lieutenant Gaver was busy helping the baggage loaders. On this particular evening "coincidence" could be perfectly defined as, "the right bag getting on the right plane." Major Sweeney had clambered up on the wing of my aircraft and was giving a soul-stirring rendition of "An Arab's Farewell To His Horse," kicking vigorously at anyone who dared come near him. The poem did sound appropriate. Lieutenant Altshuler had forgotten me completely and was wandering up and down inside the plane trying to cadge a drink from the outraged passengers. He was also doing his level best to grope a lovely stewardess every time she came within reach.
For a while it was no more than an even bet I'd ever get out of New Orleans. Two worried passenger agents were scurrying around, wondering aloud if it wouldn't be wiser to keep me off the flight. The stewardess, judging me by my friends, was all for that.
In the last minutes we lured Major Sweeney off the wing and led him back to his car. He climbed in behind the wheel and sat there, tighter than an idiot's watch. His wife, slightly better off, asked, "You're not going to drive, are you?"
Sweeney thought a moment, then answered, very carefully, "I'll have to, I'm in no condition to walk."
That sent me on my way laughing. I presume the trip was uneventful, not that I'd have known otherwise, since I went out like a light bulb. By the time we landed in Washington, I was no longer a well man. Robert Benchley told all when he said the only cure for a hangover is death. As I tottered down the ramp, I would have welcomed the Dark Angel with open arms. In my pocket was the O.S.S. letter. "Volunteers must be in excellent physical shape to last through the training, which is both strenuous and hazardous. A high degree of endurance is necessary." The morning I arrived, I was hardly their boy. A hot kiss and a cold breakfast would have killed me.
These reminiscences in the "Q" Building main hall were interrupted by someone beating me about the head and shoulders. My escort had come on the scene and, for a girl, she had a good left hook. I was hurried up to the second floor, pushed through a door, and left standing in a room which seemed to be a noncommissioned officers club, first three grades only. I had never seen so many first sergeants, master sergeants, and tech sergeants as there were cluttering up that particular corner of "Q" Building. All doing nothing.
Which they continued to do. When I'm ill I don't feel well, so I picked the nearest desk, walked over to it, and asked a smug-looking master, "Sergeant, where am I and who's in charge?"
He glanced up, didn't seem to like what he saw, and answered, "This is the Registration Room, I'm in charge. Are you the guy Tiny called about?"
That did it. "On your feet, Sergeant! I am not a 'guy,' I am a lieutenant in the United States Army. I don't know or care who Tiny is, and I don't know who you are, but this I do know: One more remark such as that last one and you won't have those stripes long enough to count them!" Although my face was no more than six inches from his, I probably gave the impression of talking from a great distance. It could not have made me much beloved by all those sergeants.
"Yes, sir! Sorry, Lieutenant. Will you please have a seat and fill out these forms?"
He handed me at least twenty sheets of paper, all different. I went into them, and began to find one alarming similarity. Each wanted the name and address of person to be notified in case of death. Not a word about serious illness or injury, just death.
When I'd finished, the Sergeant, a model soldier now, took the papers, thanked me, and would the Lieutenant please sign in on the duty register and then report down the corridor to Room 2205. There was a general sigh of relief when I walked out of the zebra farm.
In Room 2205 I was met by a lieutenant with a crew cut, horn-rimmed glasses, and Westchester accent. He introduced himself.
"I'm Malcolm MacKenzie, are you Roger Hall?"
"Yes, how do you do?"
He handed me another ream of forms, and grinned as I winced.
Excerpted from you're stepping on my cloak and dagger by ROGER HALL Copyright © 1957 by Roger Hall. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
|1.||I don my cloak||11|
|2.||I get my dagger||22|
|3.||An instructor's lot is not a happy one||34|
|4.||Don't forget to tumble||44|
|5.||I am assessed||58|
|6.||Cops and robbers, king size||71|
|7.||A Philadelphia story||86|
|8.||Bon voyage, indeed it was||106|
|9.||RWH vs O.S.S., ETOUSA||120|
|10.||They try to get even for Cornwallis||134|
|11.||Lafayette, my watch was slow||148|
|12.||The saints, Mr. Smith, and SHAEF||167|
|13.||Headquarters: seldom have so many done so much and accomplished less||183|
|14.||Scotland and Norway||196|
|15.||The decline and fall of the O.S.S.||214|
Posted January 31, 2014
Posted September 10, 2013
The first time I had ever heard of the O.S.S. was when I happened to pick up a book titled "Of Spies and Stratagems"
by Stanley Lovell at my public library... in 1978! It was so interesting that it stayed with me all these years, I have sought out anything
concerning O.S.S. off and on ever since.
Fast forward to the republishing of this book...Roger Hall was an EXTREMELY clever man, very witty and from that I conclude he was
likely brilliant. He understates his accomplishments which is a plus, no one like a braggart but, the reason for only 4 stars is this...
There HAS to be so much more he could have written! Considering the time it was written and published, he must have had concerns
about revealing too much. If only he had added another chapter. I fear this man went to his grave with stories we all would have
been in awe of.
Posted April 21, 2005
Hall's book is his funny story volunteering for, training in, and working within America's WWII OSS unit (pre-cursor to the modern CIA). Like all good soldiers, Hall sought to escape the boredom, heat, and humidity of camp life for anything else. So, he volunteered for the OSS - only knowing that at least it was something different and possibly dangerous - oh my! The book takes us through numerous training assignments of Hall's - patrolling, ambushing, parachuting, espionage basics, infiltration into civilian organizations, and more. Typical of most American WWII soldiers, he spent far more time training than he ever did in combat. The most interesting sections of the book are his parachute and espionage training. He describes both in fascinating detail. It is quite funny to see how amateurish much of his spy training was - I suppose that's why the CIA would have liked for the book not to be published. Hall writes in an irrevent and playful style that makes his book both fun and easy to read. He is the type of original smart-*ss that self-important superior officials love to hate. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, especially as it pokes fun at a rather serious business.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 2, 2004
I read this book when it first came out and thought at the time anyone this brave with a sense of humor like this and would dedicate his first book to 'Whom It My Concern' certainly was someone I would want watching my back in Vietnam. It was much better reading the second time around. Hope to see more from Mr. Hall.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 2, 2004
Posted May 2, 2004
When I was in Junior High School and High School, I would walk 1.77 miles to school and 1.77 miles to home every day. To make good use of my time, I would read a book on the way to school and on the way home. I read hundreds of books on these trips over a period of six years. Of all of the books I read, there are two books I vividly remember. 'Your Stepping on My Cloak and Dagger' is one of the two. I actually read this book several times. Then, after two years of college, I found myself enlisting in the US Army. I ended up in the United States Army Intelligence School (USAINTS) at Fort Holabird, Maryland. After a couple of days of classes, I began thinking: 'This is Deja Vu all over again.' Then I began comparing what I was going through with a book I had read. Wow! I was becoming the guy who wrote 'Your Stepping on My Cloak and Dagger!' When you first read this book, it sounds like great fiction. In reality, it is an accurate reflection of the author's experience. While the book is about World War II, it also reflects what military intelligence, CIA and other 'spooks' are doing daily today. We got to play with the highest level of technology available to anybody. I was in Intelligence Collection overseas and in Counter Intelligence in the U.S. Much of the activity I was involved in can only be done overseas because it is illegal to do it in the U.S. Overseas, I was in the Headquarters of the 525th Military Intelligence Group at 'The Ponderosa' in northern Saigon. We hired and fired spy rings and native agents. We had rows of high security filing cabinets with dossiers on just about every espionage agents in Vietnam. This book is still a great tale about what it's like to be involved in espionage. It's great for all ages. If you have any interest in espionage, this is one of the 'must read' books of all time involving espionage. Even all of the hilarious episodes are accurate descriptions of what really happens among spies.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 23, 2004
Reviewer: Lucy M. Huntzinger from San Bruno, CA USA. One of the funniest books I've read in any genre. If Dave Barry had been eligible for enlistment in 1942 this is the the kind of book he might have written. Roger Hall's account of his time in the O.S.S. is full of dry wit, bawdy humor, accute assessments of the Army's intelligence operations during World War II, and his own vivid personality. The pace is fast, people and situations are clearly delineated in a few deft words, and the irreverence only heightens the sobering reality of military life in a time of war. Thirty years after I first read it this book still makes me laugh.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 11, 2009
No text was provided for this review.
Posted December 19, 2010
No text was provided for this review.