Secret Heroes

03.20.16 4:01 AM ET

Why a 100-Year-Old Spy Might Get a Congressional Medal

A daring female American spy might finally get honored for her clandestine work during World War II.

A deceased World War II-era spy is one step closer to getting an honor she was long denied.

The Army has opened a full review into the case of Stephanie Rader, who was nominated for the Legion of Merit in 1946 after a successful tour as an undercover intelligence operative in post-war Poland. It's a key step to securing an award that Rader's friends and supporters have been seeking on her behalf for years.

Rader’s superior officers praised her “unusual coolness and clear thinking” in life-threatening work and recommended her for the award following an especially daring border crossing, in which she managed to evade capture by Russian forces.

But Rader, who at the time was only one of two Polish-speaking operatives working in the country for the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency, was denied the honor, likely because of military bias against intelligence officers and the fact that Rader was a woman, historians say.

Friends of Rader, as well as her U.S. senator, Mark Warner, took up her cause anew. But Rader died in January, at age 100, from Parkinson's disease, just as her supporters were collecting the forms and records they needed to launch their final push.

The task was arduous and occasionally fruitless because some of Rader’s most important records may have been destroyed in a fire at the National Personnel Records Center in 1973, which wiped out a key portion of the military's World War II archive.

In January, Warner wrote to the acting Army secretary, Patrick Murphy, to ask his help, calling Rader “an exceptionally courageous American who served her country with honor and distinction.” Warner cited a profile of Rader in The Daily Beast.

Murphy replied last month that he has directed the Army to conduct a thorough review. Murphy called Rader’s service “heroic.”

Now, Rader’s supporters have been asked to submit an application to an Army review board that can review her case and decide whether to bestow the award.

“Although Maj. Rader passed away before she received this well-deserved honor, we are hopeful that her bravery will be recognized posthumously,” Charles Pinck, the president of the OSS Society, told The Daily Beast. The society is dedicated to preserving the spy agency’s legacy and has been a driving force in appealing for Rader’s award.

Rader may be up for another, as well. The Senate recently passed a bill to award the Congressional Gold Medal to veterans of the OSS. A companion bill in the House of Representatives needs 290 cosponsors before it can become law.

Rader will be buried on June 1 at Arlington National Cemetery next to her husband of 57 years, Gen. William S. Rader, a storied bomber commander who survived being shot down over the Pacific and led one of the most famous raids into Nazi Germany. Gen. Rader, who died in 2003, was a recipient of the Legion of Merit.


Stephanie Rader’s friends have requested that the Air Force perform an honorary “flyover” at her funeral.