The forgotten heroes of D-Day

Chilmark resident Charles Pinck produced documentary about World War II intelligence agency.

The poster for Operation Overlord, a documentary about the role of the OSS in the D-Day invasion.

The men who landed on the beaches of Normandy are regarded as heroes, and they most certainly deserve that moniker. But the D-Day invasion was an executed plan, and the people who provided the intelligence to craft that plan are rarely credited with their part in the historic World War II battle — think of them like the stagehands behind an elaborate Broadway play.

Charles Pinck, a seasonal resident of Chilmark, is looking to give the agency responsible for that intelligence, the Office of Strategic Services [OSS], some recognition — and for him, it’s personal.

“My dad served behind enemy lines in China with the OSS during World War II,” he told The Times, referring to his father, Dan Pinck. “The OSS was the Office of Strategic Services, the World War II predecessor to the CIA, the U.S. Special Operations Command, and the state Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research.”

Pinck is the president of an organization aimed at honoring the history of the OSS. He is the driving force behind the National Museum of Intelligence and Special Operations that is in the planning stages in Washington, D.C., and last year produced a short documentary, “Operation Overlord: OSS and the Battle for France.” It was created to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion last year, and was aired at the annual William J. Donovan Award dinner in Washington, D.C.

“It’s never been given a whole lot of attention. People very rightly focus on the people who stormed the beaches and faced the gunfire, which they should,” he said. “We felt it was important that people know about the planning that went into the invasion, and the risks that they took too.”

Pinck points out that it was an Allied effort, with British and French intelligence also playing vital roles.

This year, with so many people unable to get out and celebrate the D-Day invasion, Pinck decided to make the documentary available for streaming. So on Saturday, June 6, at 6:30 am. — that’s the time the first craft landed on shore — the streaming goes live, and is available on The Times site and elsewhere. Nearly every allied country whose military fought at Normandy will be streaming the film on D-Day, as well as the Defense Intelligence Agency and the U.S. State Department. Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta provides an introduction for the documentary.

“The film was produced for last year’s dinner to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day, and to highlight the role played by OSS and Allied special forces in the invasion,” Pinck said. “People don’t really know much about it, and the critical role that intelligence played in the success of D-Day.”

Pinck’s interest harkens back to his father, who died last year. His father wrote a book about his service, titled “Journey to Peking: A Secret Agent in Wartime China,” which was released in paperback last year. Charles Pinck has been involved for more than 30 years preserving artifacts from the short tenure of the OSS.

“OSS was only around for 3½ years, and then it disappeared, so few Americans know about this organization and the incredible things not only it did in WWII, but the effect it still has today on our national security,” Pinck said. “Just an incredible story that hasn’t been widely told.”

The intelligence agency may have been short-lived, but it packed star power —  Nobel Prize laureate Ralph Bunche, actor Sterling Hayden, Julia Child, and Virginia Hall, the only civilian woman to receive the Distinguished Service Cross in World War II.

In 2008, Pinck wrote about an “invasion” of Martha’s Vineyard at Gay Head, led by Major Serge Obolensky of the OSS Operational Group, the predecessor to today’s U.S. Special Forces.

“The target was the Gay Head radar station,” Pinck wrote. “Major Obolensky’s and his group’s orders were to arrive on the Vineyard by landing craft, place marks on various buildings as proof of their visit in lieu of actual explosives, and then withdraw — all undetected.”

The mission started at Camp Edwards on Cape Cod. Pinck described the men as dressed in camouflage and wearing black makeup. When they encountered a truck driver, they tied him up until the mission was over. This is how Obolensky described the incident in his memoir: “But the truck driver was sore as hell. When he finally got untied late that night, he went racing over to the police and said a huge army of goons had taken over Martha’s Vineyard. He said that black men all covered with grease had climbed out of the ocean and attacked him. The authorities there had one immediate reaction: They pulled all panic switches, sirens blew, searchlights were turned on, and telephone calls went to Washington, to the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines. We got into a lot of trouble about that.”

Pinck’s story predates MV Times online archives, but is recounted on the OSS website.

The OSS was led by Gen. William Donovan, who was the father of American intelligence. “Donovan called [the OSS] his ‘glorious amateurs’; I love that expression,” Pinck said. “Desmond Fitzgerald, who was senior OSS and then a CIA officer, described an ideal OSS candidate as a Harvard Ph.D .who could handle himself in a bar fight. It fits the whole spirit of the organization.”