The OSS Cloak & Dagger Patch

by Les Hughes

©2005 by author








OSS-cd.jpg (58602 bytes)


OSS-jwb.jpg (149435 bytes)






Return to OSS

Return to Articles

Home Page

In 1993 a friend contacted me to tell me that he had just attended a militaria show at which a dealer was selling a copy of a proposed OSS patch along with a copy of a letter from The Institute of Heraldry (TIOH) stating that the design of the patch had been submitted to the Institute in an unsuccessful effort to secure approval. The patch, illustrated at the right, depicts a stylized spy with cloak and dagger. Even though offered as a copy, the patch and letter carried an asking price of about $100.

I was puzzled by the story. While researching OSS-related insignia, I'd receive reports of two instances of a patch depicting simply a cloak draped about a dagger having been created in the CBI theater for a few OSS personnel (indeed, I had seen one of the patches in the hands of the OSS veteran who had designed it). But these patches represented a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor on the part of those who created or wore them rather than the desire of an organization for a formal symbol. Indeed, I cannot imagine any military organization, not even the freewheeling OSS, wasting its time trying to secure official approval for a design that clearly would never fly. I decided to investigate.

 I learned that a collector in the Midwest and acquired an Ike jacket in the pocket of which he had found a formal letter from General Donovan to OSS veterans offering them the opportunity to acquire an OSS insigne. The insigne in question is simply the OSS veterans lapel pin, which is described elsewhere on this website. The collector sent Donovan's letter to TIOH and asked if the Institute could provide additional information regarding the insigne. TIOH responded with this: "this reply is to your letter... requesting information on the Office of Strategic Services during World War II. Enclosed is a color print of a proposed insignia design for the Office of Strategic Services. This design was never authorized by The Institute of Heraldry..." Amazingly, TIOH had plucked from its files not the spearhead design for which OSS had sought approval, but rather this cloak and dagger concoction.

 Believing the cloak and dagger design to have been submitted by OSS, and suspecting that many in the hobby would never have an authentic OSS insigne, the collector commissioned the manufacture of a batch of patches in the cloak and dagger design and began offering them—honestly represented—with copies of the TIOH letter for a modest price. Apparently, the dealer offering the one my friend saw had purchased one or more in the belief they were underpriced.

I wrote to TIOH and asked for a copy of the cloak and dagger design and for copies of all documents pertinent to it. TIOH responded with copies of the cloak and dagger and the spearhead designs but with nothing else. I telephoned TIOH and pressed for more information. The following day, a member of the TIOH staff called me and, with their OSS file in hand, provided the information than I was seeking. Later, TIOH sent me copies of all pertinent documents. This is what I learned.

 In 1954, nine years after OSS was disbanded, an OSS veteran, then a serving officer with a National Guard unit, submitted to the Quartermaster General, through official channels, a letter requesting that the Army take action to approve an insigne for wear by former members of the OSS who had remained in the military. And he included with his letter the cloak and dagger design to "stimulate the thinking and eventually bring about the adoption of an insigne for us to wear that will show our connections with OSS."  The Office of the Quartermaster General promptly rejected the request, citing the fact that an insignia had never been approved for the OSS and the army's desire to eliminate all unnecessary insignia. The design then passed into the files of TIOH, there to languish until 1993 when it finally fulfilled its intended purpose of stimulating the thinking, though not of the parties its creator had had in mind.

Postscript: The term “cloak & dagger” is sufficiently familiar to those working in organizations involved in clandestine operations that it should not be surprising that it inspired insignia among OSS personnel. One such creation is that of Dr. John W. Brunner, a veteran of OSS and the author of OSS Weapons (Phillips Publications, 1994). Dr. Brunner had two patches in his design made in China in 1945 while serving there with the OSS, one of which, illustrated here, he still has.