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A cloak-and-dagger life is exposed for all to see

THE BALTIMORE SUN

INCOMING

2 TP 9

1 JULY 1944

622

TO : SI STAFF LONDON

FROM : DIANE/A

REPORT NR 2 [DOUBTFUL * NOT DECIPHERABLE) FROM JOSEPH FOLLOWING RAID JUNE 10 RR TRACKS PARIS-ORLEANS AND X JUNCTION TO AUNEAU AND PITHIVIERS CUT. THEY WILL NOT BE REPAIRED BECAUSE 500 MEN WOULD BE REQUIRED FOR 15 DAYS. FOLLOWING RAID ON BRETIGNY MUNITIONS TRAIN WAS BLOWN UP TWO EXPRESS TRAINS HALTED FOUR MAIN RR LINES AND JUNCTION DOURDAN CUT GENERAL (CUSTOMS) WAREHOUSES DESTROYED.

The transcript of the World War II radio message from Virginia Hall, an underground intelligence officer in German-occupied France with the code name Diane, still bristles with the tense urgency of the clandestine agent broadcasting hurriedly from a secret hideout.

Hall, a Baltimore native and graduate of Roland Park Country Day School, spent virtually all of the war in France, organizing resistance cells and helping downed Allied airmen and escaped POWs find safety, first as an agent for the British Special Operations Executive and later for the U.S. Office of Strategic Services, the predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Hall worked under the most harrowing conditions in France. Threatened constantly by double agents, she also was a special target of both the German army intelligence and the Gestapo. Her June 29, 1944, message read:

HOST OF BERTRAND ARRESTED TODAY BY GESTAPO. BERTRAND SAFE. WILL KEEP YOU INFORMED STOP.

The Nazis called her La Dame Qui Boite, the lady who limps. She had used an artificial leg since 1933, when she was injured in a hunting accident in Turkey. She couldn't parachute into France. The OSS landed her from a torpedo boat in March 1944 on the Brittany coast. But she had escaped from the Nazis two years earlier by walking over the Pyrenees Mountains into Spain.

Onionskin copies of a couple dozen messages sent by Hall during the seven months she spent undercover in France in 1944 fill a file folder in a gray archival box in the vaults of the National Archives and Record Agency at College Park. Most are in French. Hall was fluent in French, Italian and German, according to Gerald K. Haines, a CIA historian who wrote an account of her life for the NARA journal, Prologue. She had studied at Barnard, Radcliffe and universities in Paris, Vienna, Strasbourg, Grenoble and Toulouse. She spent most of the 1930s as a consular clerk in Europe. A tall, handsome woman with a commanding presence, she was not quite 35 in 1941 when she joined the SOE in London.

Opening an archival box is like unwrapping an unexpected gift. You're never quite sure what's inside. In just two boxes - Hall's records also are in several more - you not only find transcriptions of her radio messages to London, her 1944 activity report, reports from the man who would become her husband and other men she worked with, but also clippings of underground newspapers and snapshots of collaborators executed by the Maquis resistance fighters, the Maquis celebrating liberation and shaving the heads of women accused of consorting with Germans.

Some of Hall's records are among the gray boxes that the Archives has opened and put on display along with a multitude of other records and artifacts in a new permanent exhibition called Public Vaults. They're all displayed in a newly renovated space behind the rotunda that houses the Charters of Freedom - the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights - in the National Archives' downtown Washington headquarters at 700 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W.

"We've always had vaults at the National Archives," Thomas Wheeler, president of the Archives Foundation, which helped pay for the renovation, said this month. But they had been accessible mostly to scholars and others willing to venture behind the walls downtown and at College Park.

"These are the Public Vaults," Wheeler said, "where thousands of records that used to be locked away are now down where Americans can experience the stories that are manifested in those documents."

The curators have culled some extraordinary documents from the 8 billion or so pages of records and millions of photos, films, maps, architectural drawings and recordings the archives hold. The exhibit opens with the first law passed by Congress on June 1, 1789. It required all members of federal, state and local governments "to swear or affirm to support the Constitution of the United States."

Rare and wonderful things follow: the petition for naturalization of one Alfred Joseph Hitchcock, born in Nottingham, England, then residing in Los Angeles, where he was directing motion pictures; a 1781 letter signed by George Washington, congratulating the Continental Congress on approving the Articles of Confederation; the homestead document granted to Almanzo Wilder, who married Laura Ingalls Wilder, the author of The Little House on the Prairie. She wrote about their courtship in These Happy Golden Years.

Theodore Roosevelt can be heard in a 90-second excerpt from a speech he made during the 1912 Bull Moose Campaign. It was recorded on a wax cylinder.

The log of the battleship USS Missouri records the surrender of the Japanese on Sunday, Sept. 2, 1945: "0843, General of the Army Douglas MacArthur came aboard ... 0856, Japanese representatives came aboard ... At 0902 ... the ceremony commenced and the instrument of surrender was presented to all parties."

While watching a televised U.N. Security Council meeting during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, President John F. Kennedy doodled on a yellow legal pad. He scrawled "veto" five times and "missile" three.

During his 1972 trip to Beijing, Richard Nixon was host of a dinner for Chou En Lai, the Chinese premier, at which the menu included Four Treasures of Duck, Fried Giblets, Duck Bone Soup and Lotus Seeds Sweet Pleasure for dessert. The Uher 5000 tape recorder, which lost the crucial 18 minutes from the Nixon Watergate tapes, is revealed still silent in the Public Vaults.

Baltimore's Virginia Hall is celebrated in an interactive panel with a score of Medal of Honor winners. Gen. William J. Donovan, director of the OSS, awarded her the Distinguished Service Cross "for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against the enemy." The DSC is second only to the Medal of Honor among American awards for valor. Hall was the only civilian woman to receive the DSC in World War II.

"Through her courage and physical endurance," a recording of Donovan's citation says, "even though she had previously lost a leg in an accident, Miss Hall, with two American officers, succeeded in organizing, arming and training three FFI [free French forces] battalions. In addition to training resistance fighters, Hall mapped drop zones for materiel and agents, providing crucial communications between London and resistance forces and established safe houses and caches for arms and supplies."

President Harry S. Truman invited her to the White House to receive the medal, but she declined. She was too busy in London: "I still have work to do here," she said. General Donovan presented her the award when she returned to Washington in September 1945. She continued in intelligence work after the war, joining the CIA in 1947.

Hall married Paul Gaston Goillot, a French OSS agent she worked with in World War II, in 1957. In his activity report, he had said she was a pleasure to work with: "Of course, working with a woman would have been difficult under combat conditions." She retired in 1966 and lived with her husband on a farm in Barnesville, in Montgomery County, where, Gerald Haines, the CIA historian, says she raised poodles, tended her garden and occasionally made French cheese.

She never talked much about her days as an intelligence agent. "Too many of my friends were killed because they talked too much," she told people who asked about her service.

She was 76 when she died in 1982. She was buried in Druid Ridge Cemetery in Pikesville after a graveside service.

National Archives

What: The Public Vaults permanent exhibit

When: Continuing

Hours: 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. through March 31; 10 a.m.-7 p.m. from April 1 through the Friday before Memorial Day; 10 a.m.-9 p.m. from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day

Where: National Archives Building, 700 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W., Washington

Cost: Free

Call: 202-501-5000

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