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Listen to find strength in community on the MG journey on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. And we continue with our... American Stories. Wild Bill Donovan was one of America's most exciting and secretive generals, the man President Franklin Delano Roosevelt made his top spy in World War II. Wild Bill was the director of the Office of Strategic Services, the country's first national intelligence agency. He is known as the founding father of both the CIA and the military special operations forces, along with being credited as the father of psychological and cyber warfare. Here to tell the story is Douglas Waller. He's the author of the bestseller Wild Bill Donovan, the spymaster who created the OSS and modern American espionage.
Let's take a listen. Wild Bill Donovan, he slept five hours or less a night, speed read about three books a week. He was an excellent ballroom dancer. He loved to sing Irish songs.
In fact, he'd go to Broadway and buy up the latest sheet music so he could memorize the words. He didn't smoke, rarely drank, enjoyed fine dining, although it tended to add to the weight. He spent lavishly, had no concept for a dollar. In fact, when he was roaming the world, visiting his different OSS stations, he was always bumming dollars and quarters off the aides who were with him because he never kept any money with him. He was witty, but he never laughed out loud. He never told a dirty joke.
He never showed anger. Instead, he let it boil inside of him. He was also rakishly handsome.
He had these bright blue eyes that women found absolutely captivating. His life also was filled with a lot of personal tragedy. His daughter died in an automobile accident in college. His daughter-in-law died of a drug overdose. One of his granddaughters, when she was four years old, died when she accidentally swallowed silver polish. He had a lot of sadness in his life.
He was born on New Year's Day, 1883, in Buffalo, New York's poor Irish first ward. He thought he wanted to become a priest. In every Irish Catholic family, it was always assumed that one of the sons would become a priest, and Donovan thought that was going to be him. He realized later on that he wasn't cut out to be a man of the cloth. He went to Columbia University, was a star quarterback on the football team his senior year, until he got hobbled by a cheap tackle by a Princeton lineman. He then went to Columbia Law School. Franklin Roosevelt also attended the law school at that time. In fact, Roosevelt later liked to say that he and Donovan were old buddies in law school, and Donovan said, oh, that's a bunch of bologna. Roosevelt was on a much higher social strata than a poor kid from Buffalo.
He returned to Buffalo after law school, set up a law practice, married one of the richest women in town. World War I, he led a battalion with the 69th Irish Regiment, a very famous regiment. In fact, they did a movie on it, Jimmy Cagney played in it. Donovan was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for heroism in battle during World War I. The chaplain of the 69th Irish Regiment, a guy named Father Francis Duffy, said Donovan was the only man he had ever met in his life who actually enjoyed combat.
He really did. He would write home to his wife Ruth that going out on combat missions was like going out trick-or-treating at night. Also during World War I is when he got his nickname, Wild Bill. He was a very rigorous, almost a brutal trainer of his men, because he realized they were going to be going into a meat grinder of combat in World War I, which they did.
So before they actually went into action in France, he had them running over Hill and Dale and over obstacle courses under barbed wire and everything. Finally, the entire battalion collapsed in front of him. And he stood up there all jawny and said, well, you know, what the heck's the matter with you? I'm 35 years old carrying the same pack that you are.
You don't see me out of breath. From somewhere in the back, a soldier shouted out, he never figured out who, but we're not as wild as you are, Bill. From that day on, Wild Bill Donovan stuck. He claimed he didn't like that nickname because it ran counter to the cool, calm, quiet spy image he wanted to project. But his wife Ruth said that he really did like to be called Wild Bill.
He returned to New York a hero. He became an assistant to the attorney general in the Coolidge administration during the Roaring Twenties. His goal at that point was to become attorney general of the United States. And he thought Herbert Hoover, who succeeded Calvin Coolidge, had promised him that position. And in fact, Hoover had promised him the attorney generalship.
But this is the late 1920s. The Ku Klux Klan is a very powerful political movement in this country. And it was up in arms over the idea of a Roman Catholic becoming attorney general of the United States. Donovan, as any prominent figure in Washington, also made his share of enemies there. He was a prominent Republican. Senate Democrats vowed to block his nomination. Hoover reneged on the promise.
Until the day he died, Donovan never forgave Herbert Hoover for denying him the attorney generalship. In 1932, he decided to dip his toe into politics once more. He ran for governor of New York. His idea then was to become the first Irish Catholic president of the United States. And the governorship of New York was an ideal stepping stone for the presidency.
In many respects, it may still be today. Keep in mind, 1932, Franklin Roosevelt was running for his first term in office, and he had been governor of New York. Donovan ran against a guy named Herbert Lehman, who was Roosevelt's lieutenant governor.
He ended up running as much against Roosevelt as he did against Lehman. He said some pretty nasty things about FDR on the campaign trail. At one point, he accused Roosevelt of being, quote, crafty. Another time, he accused Roosevelt of being a Hyde Park faker, because Roosevelt claimed he was a simple farmer from Hyde Park, and Donovan said that was a bunch of baloney. Roosevelt, for his part, sent out surrogates on the campaign trail to take their shots at Donovan. In fact, Eleanor hit the trail and went after Donovan on different issues. Now, the reason I give you some of this back story is it's amazing, then, that Franklin Roosevelt made Donovan his top spymaster, a very senior position, considering all the nasty things these two guys had said about each other in New York politics. Fast forward to 1940, going in 1941. Roosevelt is building up the nation's defenses. He's preparing the nation for war that he can see on the horizon. Donovan, even though he was a conservative Republican, he believed the New Deal was a communist plot to take over America, he, too, also thought that the nation needed to build itself up for war. So you had two very canny, savvy politicians here who saw common cause in working with each other. In the summer of 1940, Roosevelt sends Donovan to England, basically just to answer a very simple question.
Can Britain survive this war, or is it going to be occupied by Nazi Germany? And this was a question that Roosevelt didn't really have a clear answer to. He didn't really have a good read on Winston Churchill, either.
Later on, they would become very, very close. But at that point, he didn't know who this prime minister really was. So he sent Donovan over. Donovan was given access to the top levels of the British government, which is actually kind of unusual, because here's an Irish American going over, and the British government, particularly Churchill's office, didn't know whether this guy was going to be an Anglophile or an Anglophobe.
It turned out Donovan was a committed Anglophile. He came back to Washington with a bag full of secret documents and an answer to Roosevelt's question, which was, yes, Britain could survive the war, but it's going to need a considerable amount of material aid from the United States, which eventually came in the form of Lend-Lease. At the end of 1940, the beginning of 1941, Roosevelt sent Donovan on a second mission to Europe, this time not only to England to collect more material, but also to tour the Balkans, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe, again to gather up intelligence there, but also to deliver a very private message, particularly to Balkan leaders. And that was that if you, a Balkan leader, were sitting on the fence in this war, and many of them were at this point, just keep in mind that Franklin Roosevelt does not intend to let Great Britain lose this conflict.
So if you're trying to decide which side you want to be on, keep in mind the winning side is going to be the allied side. Churchill was delighted with the message that Donovan conveyed in the region. He sent a cable to Roosevelt saying that Donovan had been a heartwarming flame. And you've been listening to Douglas Waller tell the story of Wild Bill Donovan, and what a wild story. It is born poor in Buffalo, Columbia U. and law school, and then right into the middle of World War I, where he becomes a Medal of Honor recipient and describes himself as enjoying combat.
Politics follows, and then the Second World War and the life of espionage. When we come back, more of this remarkable story, Wild Bill Donovan's story, here on Our American Story. For each person living with myasthenia gravis, or MG, their journey with this rare neuromuscular condition is unique. That's why Untold Stories Life with myasthenia gravis, a new podcast from iHeartRadio in partnership with Argenics, is exploring the extraordinary challenges and personal triumphs of underserved communities living with MG. Host Martine Hackett will share powerful perspectives from people living with the debilitating muscle weakness and fatigue caused by this rare disorder. Each episode will uncover the reality of life with myasthenia gravis. From early signs and symptoms to obtaining an accurate diagnosis and finding care, every person with MG has a story to tell. And by featuring these real-life experiences, this podcast hopes to inspire the MG community, educate others about this rare condition, and let those living with it know that they are not alone.
Listen to Untold Stories Life with myasthenia gravis on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. They said inflation had peaked. They said prices were coming down. They said the economy was strong. Well, they were dead wrong. And we're all feeling the squeeze now.
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Contact your dealer for local inventory information. And we continue with our American stories and with the story of Wild Bill Donovan. Telling that story is Douglas Waller, an author of the bestseller Wild Bill Donovan.
Let's pick up where we last left off. Churchill also supplied a British plane to take Donovan around to the different countries, and British escorts officers to open doors for him, and also to keep an eye on him to report back to London to make sure he stayed on message. One of those escort officers was Ian Fleming, who wrote the James Bond novel. The State Department, though, wasn't so pleased with this trip, because here you had somebody with no official government standing in either the US government or the British government strong-arming Balkan leaders behind closed doors. In fact, at one point, senior State Department aides discussed the possibility of whether Donovan should be prosecuted for violating the Logan Act, which makes it a crime for a private citizen to negotiate on behalf of the US government. Roosevelt, however, was only too happy to have Donovan out there freelancing, because keep in mind, 1940 going into 1941, Roosevelt has no foreign intelligence service to speak of.
There were tiny foreign espionage units in the Navy and the Army, but they were largely dumping grounds for poor-performing officers. Roosevelt is facing a very tough reelection fight for an unprecedented third term. He's running against Wendell Willkie. He's a very strong candidate. Roosevelt was actually seriously worried that he was going to lose that race. But here he is making major foreign policy decisions overseas, largely blind to what lay ahead of him overseas.
In fact, it worried him so much at times that he would become physically ill. When Donovan returns from those two European trips, that's when our spy story begins. In July 1941, Roosevelt signed an executive order. It made Donovan his coordinator of information.
A year later, the organization would be redesignated the OSS, the Office of Strategic Services, but it started out as a coordinator of information. It was just a one-page document he signed, very vaguely written. It said, Colonel Donovan, which had been his World War I rank, will collect information of national security interests for me and will do other unspecified jobs. In fact, the document was so vague that members of Roosevelt's cabinet scratched their heads and wondered, what in the heck is Franklin doing here, appointing this Republican Wall Street lawyer, who had been mentioned as a possible presidential candidate for the GOP, to this nefarious position in the administration doing all kinds of unspecified things. Donovan said that he began his organization really from minus zero, which is really the case. He only began with one guy, which was himself.
In the beginning, he was kind of like a player in a pickup basketball game, looking for agents and operations anywhere he could find them. So, for example, the Phillips Lamp Company, they sold lamps worldwide. They're still in business. Donovan arranged privately with the Phillips Lamp Company that when its salesmen went overseas, particularly into occupied countries, they would report back to the OSS on anything they saw that might be of interest or of military value. The Eastman Kodak Company. In my day, you know, they made brownie cameras.
Back then, the Eastman Kodak Company had thousands of camera clubs around the country. Donovan arranged for those camera clubs to send him photos that tourists had taken when they were overseas on vacation, particularly in militarily important sites. Donovan had a project codenamed Cigar, where he secretly had ticket agents for Pan Am stations throughout Africa that would report back to him whenever Abwehr or Gestapo agents moved into the airports or came in or came out on different flights. He cooked up all kinds of wild schemes when he was OSS director. He was open to really any idea that crossed his desk. He kept $2,000 in his desk drawer at all times, and that was to pay for informants for information when he was roaming around Washington.
I don't think he'd find a CIA director today keeping $2,000 in his desk. He had a research and development chief, a guy named Stanley Lovell, who was a very famous New England inventor in his own right, and he was the guy who created all the spy gadgets for Donovan. Donovan used to call him his Professor Moriarty after the Sherlock Holmes character.
Stanley Lovell built the things like the miniature cameras that spies used, the pistols with silencers, pencil-like explosive devices that could be used to detonate charges or for discrete assassinations. Donovan was also very, very interested in truth drugs and how they might be able to be secretly administered to an unwitting official to get them to spill the beans on different secrets. So one time they decided to test the truth drugs out on a New York mobster, a guy named Little Augie. There was an OSS officer who had been a New York City cop who had busted Little Augie a number of times and eventually befriended the gangster. So one day he invited Little Augie up to his apartment for some smokes and a chat. Well, laced within the cigarettes was a truth drug.
It was tetrahydrocycline. And so Little Augie starts puffing away, puffing away, slowly getting a silly grin on his face and chuckling and telling the officer about working for Lucky Luciano and all the mob hits he's carried out and all the congressmen he's bribed. Of course, Little Augie's secrets were safe with Donovan. He couldn't bring them to trial or it would give away the truth drugs. He had all the other kind of wild ideas that he would propose to Roosevelt. One of them was that he proposed that Roosevelt would have a button at his desk that he could punch at any time and it would put him in instant radio communication with every radio in America. So that way, if the Japanese were going to bomb Los Angeles or the Germans were going to attack New York, Roosevelt could alert everybody. Roosevelt ignored that idea. But Roosevelt was a spy aficionado in his own right.
Ever since he was a teenager, he always enjoyed subterfuge and intrigue and keeping secrets. And in fact, Roosevelt sent ideas to Donovan that were kind of off the wall, too. One of them was bats. You know, bats that fly. They were going to fit these bats with incendiary devices, tie them around them, and they're going to fly over Japan, drop the bats out of the plane, and the bats would fly into the paper and wood homes in Japan into the eaves. The incendiary devices would go off and it would burn down Japan.
Great idea. Someone had written Eleanor with the idea. She passed it along to Franklin. Franklin thought it was cool and gave it to Donovan. So Stanley Lovell and his guys went out to the Midwest somewhere, got a bunch of these bats, fitted them with the incendiary devices, took them up in a plane, dropped them out of the plane, and guess what happened to the bats? They all sank like stone.
There was no way that idea was going to work. But Roosevelt didn't mind the failures, and Donovan was willing to try anything. In addition to being the father of the modern CIA, Donovan is also the father of modern special operations. If you go down to Tampa, Florida, to the headquarters of the U.S. Special Operations Command, they have in the main foyer in a glass case Donovan's uniform there and a lot of memorabilia from him. Donovan loved his commandos. He would talk in kind of that soft purr and say, I know this is a dangerous mission, but if I could, I would go with you. And he actually meant it. In fact, it got to be kind of a joke within OSS circles about Donovan coming and putting his arm around an agent.
This is an easy, if I could go with you, I would. That meant you were headed for trouble. In fact, at one point he went to Roosevelt and said, I'd like to command a division of guerrillas in the Philippines.
MacArthur didn't think too highly of that idea. And you've been listening to Douglas Waller tell the story of Wild Bill Donovan, particularly his exploits along with Roosevelt around World War II and the formation of the OSS. In the end, the modern precursor to the CIA. And when we come back, more of this remarkable story, we'll tell Bill Donovan's story here on Our American Story. For each person living with myasthenia gravis, or MG, their journey with this rare neuromuscular condition is unique. That's why Untold Stories Life with myasthenia gravis, a new podcast from iHeartRadio in partnership with Argenics, is exploring the extraordinary challenges and personal triumphs of underserved communities living with MG. Host Martine Hackett will share powerful perspectives from people living with the debilitating muscle weakness and fatigue caused by this rare disorder. Each episode will uncover the reality of life with myasthenia gravis. From early signs and symptoms to obtaining an accurate diagnosis and finding care, every person with MG has a story to tell. And by featuring these real-life experiences, this podcast hopes to inspire the MG community, educate others about this rare condition, and let those living with it know that they are not alone.
Listen to Untold Stories Life with myasthenia gravis on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. especially in times of uncertainty. Visit goldco.com slash iHeart. Right now, we're offering up to $10,000 in free silver when you open a qualified gold IRA account while supplies last. And all qualified callers who call this week will get a free Ronald Reagan half-ounce silver coin. This is your chance to get ahead. Visit goldco.com slash iHeart to see if diversifying with gold and silver is right for you. That's goldco.com slash iHeart. Experience the power and design of the all-new, all-electric 2023 Nissan Ariya.
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Contact your dealer for local inventory information. And we continue with our American stories and with Douglas Waller, author of Wild Bill Donovan, the spymaster who created the OSS and modern American espionage. Let's pick up where we last left off. He is also considered the father of what we call today modern information warfare, things like psychological operations and cyber warfare. In Donovan's day, though, it was done with a technology that was really pretty crude, and it was called Morale Operations back then. And it consisted mainly of newspapers, leaflets, radios, and rumors. So, for example, Donovan's agents spread rumors in international papers, New York Times, Associated Press, or whatever, that top Nazis were fleeing Germany and going to hide out in Argentina, who was going to leave the German army high and dry. But, I mean, another psyops plan they tried out was Stanley Lovell's had a group of scientists concoct a set of female hormones.
And if they could find Hitler's vegetables and inject it in there, it would make his mustache fall off and give him a falsetto voice, which, of course, would be a real bummer for the Fuhrer. Donovan turned out to be a horrible manager. In the four years he ran the OSS, he violated every rule they teach you at Harvard Business School or Public Administration School. And at one point, his own senior aides there tried to oust him. Donovan, who by then had launched enough coups to smell one being launched on himself, squashed it like a bug. But to his credit, though, he was a very charismatic leader, okay? He rarely ever issued an order or a command.
It was usually always a request, and his agents would follow him loyally and blindly. And eventually, Donovan built a spy organization of over 10,000 espionage agents, research analysts, commandos, and support staff scattered in OSS stations all over the world. They mounted a number of covert operations for the torch invasion in North Africa in November 1942, did a lot of analysis of the Vichy French defenses there for the army invading in. Interestingly, they had little operations going on in Asia. Douglas MacArthur, the commander of the Southwest Pacific Theater, banned the OSS from his theater.
Didn't want to have anything to do with him. They had extensive operations before and after the Normandy landing in France. His research analysts did a considerable amount of analysis, topographic analysis, of the beaches of Normandy for the invading armies. He had an economist on his staff who picked out bombing targets for Hap Arnold's 8th Air Force. He had hundreds of commandos and spies that dropped into occupied France before and after the invasion, on many of them on very dangerous missions. Donovan himself also liked to go in on every Allied landing, which horrified his senior staff because the last place you want your top spymaster with all those secrets in his head is at the front where he might be captured and he'd be a very valuable prize for the other side. General George Marshall, the chief of staff of the army, thought he had Donovan prohibited from going in on the Normandy landing, and so did Dwight Eisenhower, who commanded the European forces.
Donovan, though, managed to talk his way aboard a Navy heavy cruiser and then land at Utah Beach the second day after the first wave. He gets to the beach and a German Messerschmitt flies by, straits the beach, and he has to dive under the jeep for cover, dusts himself off, then walks inland about three or four miles looking for some of his operatives there. He wasn't going to find them, but he thought he'd just go in there and look for them.
He gets pinned down by a German machine gun nest. He's with another aide. He reaches into his jacket pocket to pull out his L-pill. That's a potassium cyanide capsule every OSS agent carried that he could chomp it out on and kill yourself instantly so you wouldn't be tortured. Realized, though, that he left his L-pill at Claridge's Hotel in London. In fact, he had his aide radio London as soon as they got back to the beach because he was worried, you know, a maid might come in there and mistake it for an aspirin. It took Donovan almost two years to really build up his spy organization to get into this fight.
Now, it sounds like a long time, but keep in mind it took the U.S. Army almost that amount of time. So unprepared were we for World War II. Like any other intelligence agency, Donovan also had his intelligence failures. One of the most notable ones was the vessel case. Donovan thought he had a silver bullet agent planted inside the Vatican who was supplying him with verbatim transcripts of papal conversations that Pope Pius was having with not only senior Vatican envoys all around the world, but also with foreign diplomats at the Vatican, including the Japanese ambassador there.
Turned out, Vessel was an Italian pornographer with a very vivid imagination and a real talent for concocting dialogue, and snookered Donovan's organization. He had ferocious feuds with J. Edgar Hoover, the director of the FBI. Hoover thought Donovan's organization was the biggest collection of amateurs he'd ever seen.
And truth be told, it was a collection of amateurs in the beginning. Now, in any war, generals and admirals on the same side will fight among themselves. There's always fierce bureaucratic battles, and World War II is no exception. But in the case of Donovan, the bureaucratic battles became even more ferocious because conventional generals and admirals just didn't understand what this guy was about. I mean, when Donovan started talking about little Augie and sex hormones for Hitler, they thought the guy was deranged. Donovan would also show up to Pentagon meetings, usually late, immaculately tailored in his general's uniform.
He bought it from Wetzel's in New York. And on the uniform, he would have sewn on it just his Medal of Honor ribbon, as a not-so-subtle reminder to all the generals and admirals in the room with their rows of ribbon and all that fruit salad that he had the only one that really counted. Out in the field, though, he could be what one of his aides said was incorrigibly civilian. He would show up in his fatigues all wrinkled.
It looked like he just got out of bed. Sometimes he'd be wearing a paisley ascot with him. Again, as a reminder to everybody around him, this was an unconventional guy, and he was running an unconventional unit. Eventually, Donovan couldn't overcome his political enemies. He had drafted a plan for a post-war Central Intelligence Agency, the CIA, after the war. He wanted to lead that agency. Walter Trojan, who was a reporter for the McCormick-Patterson newspaper chain, Trojan got leaked to him a copy of Donovan's secret plan to set up a post-war CIA. And he published the entire plan in the Chicago Tribune, the Washington Times Herald, and a New York paper on the same day, along with a very inflammatory story accusing Donovan of wanting to set up a, quote, Gestapo-like organization that was going to spy not only on people overseas, but Americans at home. Back then, if you accused any organization of being Gestapo-like, that about sank it politically, and it did with Franklin Roosevelt. He basically shelved the plan.
On September 20th, 1945, Truman, this is after the war's over, Truman shuts down the OSS and parcels out its functions to the Pentagon and the State Department. Now, Truman was not deaf and dumb to the dangers that lay ahead of him overseas. I mean, he was a pretty savvy president. He could see, and he was going to see, the Cold War rolling out, and he realized he needed a foreign intelligence service.
He just didn't want to have Donovan or OSS to be any part of that. In 1947, Truman organizes the Central Intelligence Agency as part of the Defense Department Act. Donovan wanted to lead that CIA in 1947. In fact, he had surrogates lobby Truman to make him CIA director. But Truman wasn't going to have any part of that, particularly after Donovan had said some mean things about Truman on the campaign trail.
Presidents usually don't forget that kind of stuff that's said about him. 1953, Eisenhower becomes president, a fellow Republican like Donovan. Ike had thought Donovan had done some fine work in Europe. Donovan thought he had his best chance to be CIA director then. Instead, though, Eisenhower appoints Allen Dulles as CIA director. And a terrific job on the production by Greg Hengler and a special thanks to Douglas Waller. He's the author of the bestseller Wild Bill Donovan, the spymaster who created the OSS and Modern American Espionage.
Pick it up at your local bookstore or wherever you get your books online. And by the way, Wild Bill Donovan died at the age of 76 from complications of vascular dementia in February of 1959 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Shortly before his death, he was visited by President Eisenhower, who later told a friend that Donovan was the last hero. Upon learning of his death, the CIA sent a cable to its station chiefs. It read, quote, the man more responsible than any other for the existence of the Central Intelligence Agency has passed away. The story of Wild Bill Donovan here on Our American Stories. . . . . .
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