July 9th, 2007 05:48 EST
Making an Impact: The People of the CIA
Making an Impact: Virginia Hall
Her life reads like a spy novel. From overcoming the loss of her leg to working clandestinely behind enemy lines, she’s a true American hero. Who is this brave woman? Some knew her as "Marie Monin," "Germaine," "Diane," "Camille," and even "Nicolas," but we know her as Virginia Hall.
Virginia Hall was born in Baltimore on April 6, 1906. She studied languages at Radcliffe, then Barnard College during the 1920s, but wanted to finish her studies in Europe. She studied in France, Germany, and Austria, finally landing an appointment as a Consular Service clerk at the American Embassy in Warsaw in 1931.
Virginia wanted to join the Foreign Service, but suffered a terrible setback when she lost her lower left leg in a hunting accident. The injury foreclosed whatever chance she might have had for a diplomatic career, and she resigned from the Department of State in 1939.
Even with her injury, Virginia refused to be held back and eventually found her way to England, where she joined the British Special Operations Executive (SOE). The British taught her about weapons, communications, resistance activities, and security measures.
Virginia’s 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 the Germans suddenly seized the rest of France in November 1942, Virginia barely escaped to Spain. After working for SOE for a time in Madrid, Virginia journeyed back to London. King George VI made Virginia a Member of the Order of the British Empire.
Joining the Office of Strategic Services … and the CIA
In 1944, Virginia joined the Office of Strategic Services’ (OSS) Special Operations Branch. She asked to return to occupied France. OSS promptly granted her request and landed her from a British PT boat in Brittany (her artificial leg kept her from parachuting in). As “Diane,” she eluded the Gestapo and contacted the Resistance in central France.
She mapped drop zones for supplies and commandos from England, found safe houses, and linked up with a Jedburgh team after the Allies landed at Normandy. Virginia helped train three battalions of Resistance forces to wage guerrilla warfare against the Germans and kept up a stream of valuable reporting until Allied troops overtook her small band in September.
At the war's end, General Donovan – the head of OSS – presented Virginia with the Distinguished Service Cross. She was the only female civilian in the war to receive this honor.
Virginia later worked for the CIA, serving in many capacities as one of the first female operations officers.