McLEAN, Va. -- Secrets can get so old they don't matter any more. Try telling that to veterans of the OSS, some of whom have never answered the question: Dad, mom, what did you do in the war?
In World War II, members of the Office of Strategic Services were spies, saboteurs, commandos, propagandists, scholars, weird inventors, translators, typists.
This weekend they were at CIA headquarters in suburban Washington, inheritor of their espionage legacy, marking the 60th anniversary of their path-breaking intelligence outfit, founded June 13, 1942.
Officials tell them it's OK now to talk about the past.
But some of these derring-doers don't.
"It was really implanted in them that they were not to discuss it," said Carole Minor, a CIA official who helped organize the gathering and encourages veterans to open up. "Some still think they can't say anything."
Stella T. Uzdawinis went to her rest without ever telling her relatives she worked for the OSS during its three years of existence.
Going through Uzdawinis' effects in Omaha, Neb., after she died in 1996, her niece Margaret Thompson found a tiny pendant marked OSS. She also came across a federal ID card with her aunt's photo, asking that she be treated as a prisoner of war if captured; plainclothes spies were typically executed.
The CIA confirmed she worked out of German-occupied Paris as a Lithuanian translator and became a civilian Army employee after the war. "As far as the war, anything to do with the war, we never discussed the subject at all," Thompson said. "If they were told not to say what their position was, well, she certainly kept her word."
Many families accompanied OSS veterans to the sprawling CIA compound for three days of activities, including a wreath-laying in honor of the 116 known OSS agents killed in war service.
The relatives still crave details of the vets' service that they never heard at home, Minor said. There is an air of finality surrounding the 60th anniversary assembly, too, with so many veterans gone.
"There's a sense that there probably won't be a 70th," she said. "Or a 75th."
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