A Conversation With History

VIRGINIA BEACH, VA (PO2 Scott Fenaroli) – An elderly man slowly walks into an auditorium. He moves with the assistance of a cane to help him get around. Although his health seems to be deteriorating, his mind is still sharp. Military officers swarm around him, excited and curious about what he has to say. Adjusting his blue jacket, he begins speaking to the audience. The crowd leans in attempting to capture every word and gesture not wanting to miss a detail. He is 93 years old and his body shows the signs of aging. He has a knee injury from jumping out of a plane decades ago. The audience hears new details from stories they had only read about or adventures that had been lost to history except in the memory of those who were there.

The man everyone gathered at the SEAL Heritage Center to listen to is Ambassador Hugh Montgomery, Ph. D.

Montgomery graduated from Harvard University before joining the Army in 1942. He parachuted into Normandy with the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment during D-Day in 1944. During the war, he didn’t know what organization he was working for, but afterwards he discovered he worked for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS); the precursor to the CIA, specifically X-2 or Special Counterintelligence Unit. X-2 was the only OSS unit given access to the British ULTRA program, the program that deciphered the German Enigma machine allowing the Allies to read encrypted German messages.

Montgomery spoke for more than an hour about his involvement in the OSS, the CIA, World War II, the future plans of the OSS Society, and the world we live in today.

“Many of the stories from the days of the OSS were never committed to paper during or after the war,” Montgomery said. “That history was burned and destroyed because of the secret nature of the work.”

He claims his own personal record in the national archive has two sentences and both are wrong.

During the war, members of the OSS carried what was known as an Eisenhower Pass. The pass looked like a normal ID, but had a picture and read, “The bearer of this document is authorized to requisition whatever supplies and equipment are necessary for the execution of his mission, by order of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. If you have questions call SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force).” Montgomery’s card was stamped #7.

The Army colonel who issued it to him said that once the war was over, they were to return them immediately or they wouldn’t see the shores of the United States again. Montgomery recalled using his Eisenhower Pass on several occasions. He also remembered wearing American uniforms without rank, unit or country insignia identifying them as Americans.

During one operation, he and his team slipped behind enemy lines to capture what later turned out to be a German nuclear physicist. They were surrounded by a platoon of U.S. Army military police that mistook them for deserters. The MPs held Montgomery’s men at gunpoint, and the tank commander pointed his M1911 pistol at Montgomery. The man pointing the pistol to Montgomery’s head was Col. Creighton Abrams, who would go on to serve as Chief of Staff for the Army. The only thing that freed Montgomery and his team from the situation was his Eisenhower Pass.

Later in the war, in April 1945, Montgomery and his team discovered the Buchenwald concentration camp. He met the prisoners and gave them all of his cigarettes. He went into the headquarters building of the Schutzstaffel (SS) at the camp and saw a row of lamps. Each lamp had tattoos cut out of prisoners’ flesh and mounted to the lampshade. The commandant’s wife thought the tattoos were decorative and wanted to display them, so she selected prisoners with tattoos she liked to be executed.

Montgomery was under orders not to break radio silence unless it was an emergency, but he sent a message to headquarters saying doctors and medical services were urgently required at the camp before continuing with his mission.

He still has the SS thunderbolt flag that flew above the camp, which was given to him by the prisoners.

After the war, Montgomery returned to Harvard and earned a Ph. D. He joined the CIA in 1952 and was stationed in Berlin where he was part of the program that tapped the underground communications beneath the Russian embassy. He worked for the CIA for 63 years.

“As one who survived and served all of WWII in the European theater with OSS, I stand in awe of the achievements of the Navy SEALs,” said Montgomery. “In fact, the SEALs are direct decedents of the OSS maritime unit in the form of the maritime staff, which was recently brought to light by military historian Patrick O’Donnell.”

The maritime units would not have been as successful if it weren’t for the efforts of Doctor Christian Lambertsen and the rejection of the Navy, added Montgomery.

“Lambertsen was a graduate student, and he developed the Lambertsen Amphibious Respiratory Unit (LARU). He took it to the Navy, and they said ‘no way, that thing won’t work, and to go away,” said Montgomery. “Lambertsen, who was convinced it would work, took it to Gen. [William] Donovan. The general took him to the swimming pool of the Shoreham Hotel where Lambertsen demonstrated an underwater breathing apparatus that didn’t produce bubbles.”

The general hired him on the spot then Lambertsen went on to develop and head the OSS dive unit and their combat swimmers.

Montgomery said that serving in WWII was a lot easier because the enemy wore uniforms thus easy to identify. Today service members are faced with the challenge of identifying an enemy that wears no uniform and can easily hide among the populous. They attack then slip into the background.

After speaking to members of Naval Special Warfare (NSW) at the SEAL Heritage Center, Montgomery and his son took a tour of SEAL Team TWO and spoke with NSWG2 leadership. The pair viewed static displays at Logistic Support Unit Two (LOGSU-2), then joined Naval Special Warfare Group TWO (NSWG-2) commodore, Capt. Jamie Sands, and Command Master Chief, Christopher Brownell to share more stories.

Montgomery said the major project of the OSS Society is the construction of a national museum of intelligence and special operations. The society doesn’t want the building to be filled with dusty displays but to capture the past from the days of the Green Mountain Boys and the French and Indian War to today. It should be an institution of learning and preparing current and future generations of intelligence and special operation forces for the challenges they will face, he added.

From jumping into France on June 6, 1944, to a Russian officer shooting his driver in of Berlin after the war in front of Montgomery, to being named deputy U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and retiring from the CIA in 2014, Ambassador Montgomery was not only present when history was made but helped to form the world we live in today.

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