Before there was the Central Intelligence Agency, there was the Office of Strategic Services. Created to gather intelligence on multiple levels to combat the Axis Powers, the office was originally built around Ivy League academics. That soon changed and this book provides an analysis of the formation of the OSS and the role played by Italians and Italian Americans in the Invasion of Italy.
Brilliantly researched, Professor Salvatore LaGumina brings the reader directly into the fold and describes the importance of the wartime OSS. From the organization’s fascinating beginnings, it’s need to think outside the box and it’s recruitment of both Italians and Italian Americans to fight the secret war against the enemy, is brought to life in a way that has never been told before. The author conducted interviews with key players, examined previously classified government documents and assembled into a cohesive picture a complicated story that is both riveting and filled with intrigue.
Italian Americans fluent in Italian language and customs became integral parts of intelligence operations working behind enemy lines. These units obtained priceless military information that significantly helped defeat the Axis. They parachuted onto frozen mountains tops to link up with Italian guerilla units in northern Italy and rowed boats across the Mediterranean Sea in pitch black darkness to destroy railroad junctions. The process of selection, the conditions that the men trained in, the behind-the-lines activities and the stories told by the participants are revealed with such clarity and depth that a reader could easily assume that the events occurred only last week rather than more than 70 years ago.
The accomplishments of the men and women of the OSS are difficult to overstate and it is even more remarkable when you read their stories. The reader will be taken aback by the valor, courage, intelligence and resourcefulness of the people whose stories are finally told. It is also worth bearing in mind that many of these individuals did not even divulge their roles to family members or even their spouses for decades following the war. Readers will learn that a high school educated newspaperman was responsible for putting together the first detailed topographic map of Sicily – on his own initiative, but that is only the beginning of the story. At the age of 22, he also devised the strategic invasion plan of the island, the plan of attack that the U.S. Army ultimately deployed! We also learn in the book that contrary to the commonplace distain for the effectiveness of the Italian Navy by the admirals of the U.S. Navy, it was through Italian American operatives that the reality of the advances of the Italians and operational effectiveness of small teams of men were finally recognized. Interestingly, these same tactics were later adopted by the U.S. and continue to this day in the form of the Navy Seals.
Such revelations appear in page after page of “The Office of Strategic Services and Italian Americans – The Untold History.” The behind the scenes tales of the invasions, as seen from the perspective of those who were behind the lines is chilling, but as is often the case of intense stress, punctuated with bits of humor and irony.
For anyone who is interested in military history, WWII or espionage, this is a ‘must read’ selection. Why read a spy novel when you can read the real thing? You will also burst with pride in your ancestry when you read about the exploits of these unheralded Italian and Italian American men and women of the OSS.
Published by Springer International Publishing under the Italian and Italian American Studies – Series; Editor Stanislao G. Pugliese, Hofstra University, the book is available from Amazon as well as Google Play.
About the Author
Salvatore J. LaGumina is Professor Emeritus and Director of the Center for Italian American Studies at Nassau Community College, USA. He has been president of the American Italian Historical Association, has written dozens of scholarly articles and is the author, editor and co-editor of twenty books on the Italian American experience. He has received many honors, including the Pietro DiDonato/John Fante Literary Award.