GAINESVILLE - Riverside Military Academy (RMA) and the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) Society members recently honored Col. William "Bill" H. Pietsch, Jr., USA (Ret) at a reception in Washington, D.C.
The OSS was the World War II predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency and the U.S. Special Operations Command.
Col. Pietsch, who graduated from Riverside in 1938, was presented with the Riverside Distinguished Service Award by Riverside's President, Dr. James H. Benson, Col., USMC (Ret).
While studying James Hilton's "Lost Horizon" at Riverside, Pietsch became captivated by British secret service agent Hugh Conway's adventures in Shangri-La. Upon graduation from RMA at the age of 15, Pietsch was already thinking about his future military career.
At the age of 16, Pietsch entered the U.S. Military Academy after obtaining a waiver from Secretary of War Henry Stimson (with President Franklin D. Roosevelt's approval), making him the youngest cadet in modern history to win an appointment.
Pietsch's father was contacted by WWI comrade Bill Donovan, Coordinator of Information Services, in June 1942. Donavan was told that young Pietsch's class would graduate early and be assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division for training at Fort Benning and Fort Bragg. Upon completion of this training, he would report to Donovan's headquarters in Washington D.C.
Pietsch, the youngest man in his class, graduated from West Point in 1943 at the age of 20. He was personally recruited for service in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) by Donovan who interviewed him with a single question, "Do you consider yourself lucky?" Pietsch replied, "Yes, sir!"
Pietsch was soon invited to President Roosevelt's northern Maryland retreat Shangri-La, which was later renamed Camp David by President Eisenhower. While visiting the retreat, Pietsch met Sir William Stephenson, principle intelligence adviser to Prime Minister Winston Churchill during WWII and best known by codename "Intrepid." Pietsch was accepted as the third American officer to be seconded to the British Secret Service, SOE Executive.
After parachuting into Nazi-occupied France, Pietsch helped the French resistance to obtain weapons, ammunition, and transportation before joining with General Patton's Third Army and General Patch's Seventh Army. This mission resulted in Burgundy's liberation and was described as a key event in General Eisenhower's "Crusade in Europe." Following WWII, Pietsch's Russian language skills took him on numerous missions behind the "Iron Curtain." He also made forays into various Arab countries and Vietnam.
"Riverside provided the foundation for all of the events that followed my years as a Riverside cadet," said Pietsch. "I would never have gotten into West Point without the confidence instilled in me by General Sandy Beaver, all the instructors, and even my fellow cadets."
Pietsch retired after more than 30 years as a career Special Operations Officer. He currently serves the OSS Society as senior vice president, a member of the board of directors, and an executive committee member. He also remains active as a Red Cross volunteer, a Homeland Defense Advisor, and a consultant on military support for civil authority. He lives in Kensington, Maryland with his wife, Rose Marie.