Army posthumously awards female veteran who served as WWII spy

The Army has approved the posthumous awarding of the Legion of Merit to a female Army veteran who served as an American spy during World War II, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) announced Thursday. 

Stephanie Rader was officially employed as a clerk at the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw during World War II but used her Polish language skills to gather valuable intelligence information on Soviet troop numbers and movements across post-World War II Poland for the Office of Strategic Services, Warner said. 

She was twice recommended for the award for her successful intelligence work at the embassy but the commendation was never approved. 

It was "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," Warner said.

Rader, from Alexandria, Va., died in January at age 100. 

According to Warner's statement, Rader was the daughter of Polish immigrants who was born and raised in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

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, the statement said. 

"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," the statement said. "Her superiors noted she moved freely across Poland, gathering first-hand information on Russian troops and Polish secret police activities." 

Rader retired from the Army with the rank of major, returned to the U.S. and married an Air Force pilot who flew missions over Europe and the Pacific during the war. 

The OSS Society first contacted Warner to push the Army to reconsider her nomination after historical records of the OSS were declassified and the extent of Rader's intelligence activities became known. 

Warner then worked with Army Secretary Eric Fanning, Rader's family and friends and the OSS Society to win approval for the award before Rader's burial next Wednesday. 

Fanning called Warner on Thursday to tell him that the Legion of Merit, which honors "exceptionally meritorious service," would be awarded.

"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," Warner said. 

"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," Charles Pinck, President of the OSS Society said. 

"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," he said.  

Warner has also 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 legislation, known as the OSS Gold Medal Act, passed the Senate unanimously in February. It is awaiting action in the House and has 164 bipartisan cosponsors, according to Warner. 

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