Tuesday, December 12, 2006

History is Our Stories ~ Virginia Hall

Distinguished Service Cross
Awarded to Virginia Hall by
Major General William J. Donovan
November 27, 1945
"My country rewarded my efforts with the Distinguished Service Cross, the only female civilian in the war to receive this nation's highest military honor after the Medal of Honor!"

Today, a long overdue honor will be given to Virginia Hall, who died in 1982 at age 78.

She will be honored by the British and French ambassadors at a ceremony at the home of French Ambassador Jean-David Levitte in Washington, DC. British Ambassador Sir David Manning will present a certificate signed by King George VI to Hall's niece. Hall should have received the document in 1943 when she was made a member of the Order of the British Empire.

Who was Virginia Hall? This remarkable and mysterious woman was a spy! A spy with a wooden leg!!

Virginia Hall, born in 1906 in Baltimore, Maryland, had a talent for languages and studied at Barnard College, Paris and Vienna. She got a job as a clerk at the American Embassy in Vienna. Her goal was to be in the US Foreign Service, but a hunting accident cost her dearly - the loss of her left leg and her chance at a career with the Foreign Service.

She made her way to England and joined the British Special Operations Executive. Her first assignment was to establish a spy network in Vichy, France. She helped prisoners of war escape and kept contact with the French underground. When Germany overran France, she escaped through Spain and returned to England.

In 1943, she joined General William Donovan's Office of Strategic Services - the OSS - precursor to the CIA. Returning to France, she appeared to be a milkmaid, known as 'Marie Monin' or 'Germaine' or 'Diana' or 'Camille' or 'Nicholas.' She stayed in the field for 15 months, coordinating the Resistance Forces in acts of sabotage and guerrilla warfare. She located parachute drop zones where money and weapons were passed to the French Resistance. Her teams destroyed bridges, derailed trains and killed scores of German soldiers.

In 1942, the Gestapo circulated posters offering a reward for the capture of "the woman with a limp. She is the most dangerous of all Allied spies and we must find and destroy her."

After the war, Virginia Hall went to work for the CIA - one of the first female operations officers. "my love for intelligence work and serving my country never ended; there was always something new to learn," she said. "I look back with pride not only at what I have done for my country, but also at the work of those who followed after me."

I stumbled across this story this morning. I had never heard of Virginia Hall before today. What an amazing woman. She truly inspires me, and reminds us all of the sacrifices required to serve our country fully. "Wolves at the Door: The True Story of America's First Female Spy" is her biography, just published last year. I look forward to reading it.


Anonymous said...

I am having trouble commenting under my name and website. I am already signed in and it's asking me to sign in!, So I am anon for the moment)

Excellent post FG!
Brings a tear to my eye.
I bet my brother knows of her (he is a WW ll buff).
I would very much be interested in the book.
We need more women today like her! Truely a hero!
I posted awhile ago on females in the Miltary- scroll down a bit.

Thanks FG, you are doing a fabulous job here!

daniel said...

OHH!! I just figured out why I can't comment. I have been signing on to betablogger yet I haven't switched yet and I didn't see that 'other' would be blogger.

prying1 said...

I had read a bit on this lady (in the true sense of the word) but your post adds quite a bit more to the story. Thanks!

Flag Gazer said...

I am anxious to get the book - seems there is a lot of story from what I found last night!

Daniel - Beta is annoying in the comments area - I always log in as other - sorry you are fighting with it!