HUDSONVILLE, Mich. (WOOD) — Two Ottawa County men who played a crucial role in World War II now have their well-deserved Congressional Gold Medal.
Congressman Bill Huizenga handed over the awards to Keith Cole and Al Johnson at Hudsonville City Hall Monday morning.
Both men were members of the Office of Strategic Services – an intelligence agency of analysts, spies, saboteurs and pilots that operated during WWII and preceded the CIA.
“Al and I are the only two guys that I know of in the OSS in Michigan, (and) we live a block apart,” Cole said with a laugh.
Johnson, 95, lives in Hudsonville. During the war, he worked as a spy for the OSS, aiding the French Resistance and cover operations in Germany and China.
“No one ever expected to receive an award because we were actually an organization that didn’t exist, and when something doesn’t exist, there’s no publicity about it,” said Johnson. “So when you receive an award like this, it certainly is significant because it’s something that wasn’t expected.”
Cole, 93, was an engineer and dispatcher for the OSS’s air branch, the 492nd Bomb Group. The former Grand Rapids resident says members of the OSS couldn’t talk about what they did until the order of secrecy was lifted in 1987.
The pair attended a gold medal ceremony in Washington, D.C. in March. At the event, lawmakers noted the instrumental role the OSS played in gathering intelligence before the Normandy invasion on D-Day.
“The award was a long time coming and it’s a pretty marvelous thing to receive an award like this. It has so much value attached to it, so much history,” said Johnson.
“A lot of my friends passed way within the last few years and they saw nothing of no medals or the awards that have been given to us in the last few years. So anyway, I feel very fortunate because of that,” said Cole.
The Congressional Gold Medal is the nation’s highest civilian honor. OSS members were previously awarded the Legion of Honour, the highest civilian distinction in France.