Legion of Merit to be awarded posthumously to WW2-era U.S. spy

virginiaU.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) announced today that an Alexandria woman who served as an American spy in post-World War II Europe will be posthumously awarded the Legion of Merit before her burial at Arlington National Cemetery next Wednesday.

Stephanie Rader, who died in January at age 100, was twice recommended for the Legion of Merit for her successful intelligence work while working at the American embassy in Poland – yet the commendation was never approved, most likely because she was one of the few women who worked as a field operative at the male-dominated Office of Strategic Services (OSS), which later evolved into the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.  Sen. Warner worked with Army Secretary Eric Fanning, Rader’s family and friends, and the OSS Society to win approval of the posthumous award in time for Rader’s scheduled June 1 interment at Arlington National Cemetery.

Rader’s superiors nominated her for The Legion of Merit, which honors  “exceptionally meritorious service,” in 1946, but that recommendation was ignored for unknown reasons. When the historical records of the OSS were recently declassified and the extent of Rader’s intelligence activities became known, the OSS Society enlisted the support and assistance of Sen. Warner to push the Army to reconsider her nomination.

Sec. Fanning informed Sen. Warner in a phone call today that the Legion of Merit would be awarded.

Rader, the daughter of Polish immigrants who was born and raised in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., was officially employed as a clerk at the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw, but she used her flawless Polish language skills to gather valuable intelligence information on Soviet troop numbers and movements across post-World War II Poland for the OSS.

“The men and women who quietly serve America’s intelligence agencies do not seek attention, and they do not expect to receive medals or commendations for their service. Stephanie Rader certainly did not pursue this honor for herself: she was twice nominated for the Legion of Merit by her superiors seven decades ago,” said Sen. Warner, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. “Stephanie Rader was a trailblazer for women in the ‘old boy network’ at the OSS, and we can find no legitimate reason why this commendation was denied, other than the pervasive gender discrimination which existed in the early days of the American intelligence community right after World War II.”

Continued Warner, “Stephanie Rader was a patriot, and I am very, very pleased we were able to work with the Army, her family, friends, and former OSS colleagues to right this historic wrong. Stephanie Rader will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery with the honor and respect of a grateful nation.”

“We are very grateful to the Army for awarding Stephanie Rader the Legion of Merit. It is not only recognition for her, but for the approximately 4,500 women who served in the OSS of which 900 went overseas,” said Charles Pinck, President of the OSS Society. “We are also very grateful to Senator Mark Warner for his strong support. We are most grateful to Stephanie Rader for her bravery and dedication.”

After receiving a chemistry degree from Cornell, Rader was chosen as one of the first women to serve in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps. Her Polish heritage and fluency brought her to the attention of OSS recruiters, and she volunteered for service in Soviet-occupied Poland in the fall of 1945. Her superiors noted she moved freely across Poland, gathering first-hand information on Russian troops and Polish secret police activities. She retired from the U.S. Army with the rank of major, returned to the United States, and married  an Air Force pilot who flew missions over Europe and the Pacific during the War. Brig. Gen. William Rader (ret) died in 2003.

Last fall, Sen. Warner introduced legislation to award the Congressional Gold Medal to veterans of the OSS “in recognition of their superior service and major contributions during World War II.” The OSS Gold Medal Actpassed the Senate unanimously in February, and is currently awaiting action in the House of Representatives, where it has 164 bipartisan cosponsors.


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