Western New York's Medal of Honor Recipients
World War I
William J. Donovan
William J. "Wild Bill" Donovan was born January 1, 1883 in Buffalo, N.Y. Donovan is the only American to have received the Medal of Honor, the National Security Medal, Distinguished Service Medal and the Distinguished Service Cross, the 4 highest awards given in our United States. He was also awarded the Freedom Award of the International Rescue Committee after his death. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his leadership of the "Fighting 69th" Battalion of the United States Army during World War I. He is one of two Medal of Honor first honorary inductees in Niagara University's ROTC hall of fame on October 5, 2005; 2ND Lt. John P. Bobo is the other. Both attended Niagara University.
Donovan worked as the political adviser, speech writer, and campaign manager for Herbert Hoover. In 1922, he ran for Lieutenant Governor, unsuccessfully. In 1932, Calvin Coolidge appointed him as Assistant Attorney General. That same year, he entered the race for Governor of New York State representing the Republican Party.
President Roosevelt asked Donovan to go to Europe as part of a secret fact finding mission in 1940. In July 1941, Roosevelt, with help from William Stephenson & Britain's MI6 chief Stuart Menzies, appointed Donavan the Coordinator of Information of the newly formed Office of Strategic Services. It was once reported that the O.S.S. invented a silent pistol. President Roosevelt would later remark that Donovan is to be the only Republican who would ever be allowed in the oval office with a gun.
Donavon was promoted to the rank of Major General in WWII; Donovan assembled 16,000 agents that worked behind enemy lines. He relied on his experience, instincts and good sense. He was a risk taker and was open-minded to any new ideas. "Wild Bill" owned up to any successes and failures in O.S.S. He was called a "spymaster". The O.S.S. was closed down by President Truman as soon as WWII ended. In September 1947, the C.I.A. began and used the O.S.S. as its model. In 1953, Donavon accepted the role of Ambassador to Thailand.
On February 8, 1959, at the age of 76 in the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, "Wild Bill" Donovan had passed away. When President Eisenhower was informed of his death he remarked, "What a man! We have lost the last hero." His remains lie buried in Section 2 of the Arlington National Cemetery.
Following are some of Wild Bill's more memorable quotes:
"Espionage is not a nice thing, nor are the methods employed exemplary. Neither are demolition bombs nor poison gas…. We face an enemy who believes one of his chief weapons is that none but he will employ terror. But we will turn terror against him..."
"The door for intelligence work opened for me when I undertook my first secret mission while on my honeymoon in Japan in 1919. The United States Government asked me to take a two-month trip to Siberia to report anti-Bolshevik movement in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution. Well, it wasn't your usual honeymoon, but Mrs. Donovan was very understanding. The mission was successful and opened doors to many more missions for the government. I was heading down the intelligence path and I was loving it."