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America’s Most Decorated Female Spy Finally Gets the Recognition She Deserves

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There are many great heroes of WWII who have become household names by now, their exploits immortalized in movies, TV shows, and books. One name most people haven’t heard, however, is Virginia Hall.

Today, that changes, though Virginia herself might not be too happy about becoming a household name. As she liked to say, “Many of my friends were killed for talking too much.”

Since it’s been over 70 years since she worked as a wartime spy, and she’s no longer living, it’s probably safe – and high time – to talk about her contributions.

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Unsung Hero of #DDay , #virginiahall , the only American woman to win the Distinguished Service Cross 🎖 : “for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy while serving as an American Civilian Intelligence Officer in the employ of the Special Operations Branch, Office of Strategic Services, who entered voluntarily and served in enemy-occupied France from March to September 1944. Despite the fact that she was well known to the Gestapo because of previous activities, Miss Hall established and maintained radio communications with London headquarters, supplying valuable operational and intelligence information. With the help of a Jedburgh team, she organized, armed, and trained three battalions of French resistance forces in the Department of the Haute Loire. Working in a region infested with enemy troops and continually at the risk of capture, torture, and death, she directed the resistance forces with extraordinary success in acts of sabotage and guerrilla warfare against enemy troops, installations, and communications. Miss Hall displayed rare courage, perseverance, and ingenuity. Her efforts contributed materially to the successful operations of the resistance forces in support of the Allied Expeditionary Forces in the liberation of France.” 🎖

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Hall was born in 1906 to a wealthy Baltimore family who expected her to educate herself and then marry into more money. She had other ideas, wearing bracelets of (live) snakes to school, becoming an avid hunter, and taking pride in being “capricious and cantankerous.”

She was educated at Radcliffe and Barnard before traveling to Paris and falling in love with France, a love that would change the course of her life. Once she’d gone overseas, Hall became set on becoming a diplomat, said Sonia Purnell, the author of a forthcoming book on Hall.

“She wanted to be an ambassador. She got pushed back by the State Department. She applied several times.”

While working in a secretarial capacity at a U.S. consulate in Turkey, Hall had a hunting accident that cost her her left leg below the knee. She persevered through a long and painful recovery, and learned to maneuver on a wooden leg.

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With the anniversary of D-Day (officially known as Operation Overlord) approaching, we at the MI Library would like to acknowledge Virginia Hall. Virginia Hall established the Cosne resistance in the weeks preceeding D-Day overcoming reluctance from others to work for a woman! She had overseen coordination of airdrops that supplied explosives, weapons and other forms of support equipment. This resistance set about destroying railroad lines, bridges and disrupting communications. Virginia's force grew to more than 1,500 men by the 4th of June 1944 and after D-Day. Hall died at the age of 77 in July 1982. She committed to the cause, placed the mission above accolades, practiced sound operational security and effectively used the resources available. Hall routinely overcame hurdles, often in the face of life threatening circumstances. —————– To receive or renew a remote user account: Navigate to our website at https://www.ikn.army.mil/apps/milibrary Click on the ‘Remote Registration’ button in the left column Open the form and enter all requested information Using your Enterprise Email account, send the completed registration form to us at the address provided on the bottom of the form. You can also come into the MI Library at Building 62723, Hatfield St, Fort Huachuca, AZ 85613 and our phone number is (520)-533-4100! —————– Christopher G. Nason Military Intelligence Library and Museum where, "Intelligent action leads to peak performance and proper planning!" —————— #dday #operationoverlord #virginiahall

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Another Hall biographer and ex-CIA officer, Craig Gralley, believes that losing her leg was a turning point in her life.

“She had been given a second chance at life and wasn’t going to waste it. And her injury, in fact, might have kind of bolstered her or reawakened her resilience so that she was in fact able to do great things.”

She was living in France when WWII broke out, and immediately jumped into the fray, volunteering to drive a French ambulance. As her beloved France was overrun, Hall fled to Britain and quickly fell in with British intelligence. After a bit of training, she found herself back on French soil and working as a British spy in 1941.

Hall posed as a reporter for The New York Post and saw many in her network arrested and even killed. The Gestapo had her number and knew they were in search of a woman with a limp, but Hall was a natural at the spy game – like many women who were an active part of the resistance, she exploited her female-ness and her “cripple-ness” to fly under the radar.

“Virginia Hall, to a certain extent, was invisible,” says Gralley. “She was able to play on the chauvinism of the Gestapo at the time. None of the Germans early in the war necessarily thought that a woman was capable of being a spy.”

Hall operated largely in Lyon, which put her in the path of Klaus Barbie, otherwise known as “the Butcher of Lyon,” but thankfully she was never counted among the thousands tortured and killed by his forces. He was aware of her, however, posting signs around the city that featured a drawing of her and the words “The Enemy’s Most Dangerous Spy – We Must Find And Destroy Her!”

While there, she recruited everyone she could, from nuns at the convent where she was staying to a local brothel owner who helped by passing along information the prostitutes gathered from German troops. She organized the resistance in Lyon, providing safe houses and intelligence that altered the course of the war on French soil.

Even though she constantly changed her appearance, the Nazis got close enough in 1942 to send her into hiding in Spain. To get there, she walked 50 miles a day for 3 days in heavy snow, over the Pyrenees Mountains.

With a wooden leg. Remember?

Gralley, who considers himself in good shape, tried making the trek and found it exhausting.

“I could only imagine the kind of will and the kind of perseverance that Virginia Hall had by making this trek. Not on a beautiful day, but in the dead of winter and with a prosthetic leg she had to drag behind her.”

A snafu with her passport had her wasting 6 weeks in a Spanish jail before being released back to Britain. All Virginia wanted to do was to return to her work in France but the British refused her request, fearing her life.

The American OSS, however, had no such qualms – though Purnell points out that Hall did take precautions before returning to occupied soil.

“She got some makeup artist to teach her how to draw wrinkles on her face. She also got a fierce, a rather sort of scary London dentist to grind down her lovely, white American teeth so that she looked like a French milkmaid.”

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Observances of the 75th anniversary of D-Day are properly focusing on the troops and the architect of Operation Overlord, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, who freed Europe from Hitler and his Nazi hordes. One person—a woman—has not received the credit she deserves for her efforts with the French Resistance. Without her daring and heroism, the war would most assuredly have been prolonged and many more lives would have been lost. Her name was Virginia Hall and her story is told in a new book by Sonia Purnell titled “A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II.” The title does not exaggerate Virginia’s contributions to the Allied victory. Never have I read anything like it. Every page is compelling and demands not just to be read, but absorbed. Every act reflects incredible bravery. This is what heroism looks like. Virginia’s actions, along with the men who gave their lives for the freedoms that France, the rest of Europe, and America enjoy today, should never be forgotten. Sonia Purnell has ensured Virginia Hall’s place in that great pantheon. Tap our stories to see more stories from #DDAY75 and read Cal Thomas’ full book review.

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Back in France, she worked with resistance fighters to blow up bridges, sabotage trains, and reclaim villages ahead of advancing Allied troops.

The war ended and Virginia Hall, like all of the fighters abroad, returned home. She brought with her a French-American soldier (now her husband) and a penchant for keeping her mouth shut.

Her niece, Lorna Catling, recalled meeting her aunt after the war in a conversation with NPR.

“She came home when I was 16, and she was pale and had white hair and crappy clothes.”

And as for the war?

“She never talked about it.”

Both the British and the French recognize Hall’s contributions, though only in private. She declined public accolades in the States, too, claiming she’d rather remain undercover.

William Donovan, the OSS chief, bestowed the Distinguished Service Cross on Hall – the only civilian to receive such an honor during WWII – and only her mother witnessed the ceremony.

She joined the CIA and worked there for 15 years, though she did not thrive and wasn’t happy being stuck behind a desk, CIA historian Randy Burkett tells NPR.

“As you get higher in rank, now it’s all about money and personnel and plans and policy and that sort of bureaucratic stuff. …Was she treated properly? Well, by today’s standards, absolutely not.”

She retired in 1966 without ever having spoken publicly about her experiences as a WWII spy, and died in 1982 without the public realizing who she was or what she had contributed to the successful war effort.

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🕵🏻‍♀️ A Woman of No Importance. 🕵🏻‍♀️ . . 🕵🏻‍♀️ Here's the thing. Virginia Hall deserves WAY more credit than what she received. . . 🕵🏻‍♀️ This woman pretty much single handedly dove into enemy territory, built a resistance empire, and TORE SHIT UP on the Nazis. All the while being disregarded and disrespected by many of her male counterparts (shocker). That didn't stop her though, she refused to give a crap about any of them. She disregarded them right back, straight up left them and refused to work with them. Why put herself and others in danger because of chauvinistic nonsense? . . 🕵🏻‍♀️ This woman was a badass in the most incredible way and I'm disappointed that I haven't read more about her before now. A beautiful person, changing her name and appearance numerous times (see what I did there), an amputee, crossed the Pyrenees during winter and survived!? She was THE most wanted woman in Europe by the Nazis AND NEVER GOT CAUGHT! . . 🕵🏻‍♀️ After all that, she came back and joined the CIA (no small feat despite her experience) and was STILL underutilized. — "In its own secret report on her career, the CIA admitted that her fellow officers 'felt she had been sidelined — shunted into backwater accounts — because she had so much experience that she overshadowed her male colleagues, who felt threatened by her.'" 🙄😡😑 . . 🕵🏻‍♀️ So much more to say but I'll let you pick it up and read it. Sonia Purnell has done incredible research and truly put together this fascinating and eye-opening book about one of the most important women in history. Virginia paved the way for so many others that came after her, even in indirect ways. Not only for women, but the government, the CIA, secret service and more should all be eternally grateful. . . 🕵🏻‍♀️ Anyway, this week's #sundaywiththeselftimer is my appreciation for this book and me wishing and dreaming I was half the badass Virginia was. 💪 #powerfulwomenrepresent . . #awomanofnoimportance #soniapurnell #virginiahall #bookreview #bookrecommendation #readingwanderwoman #readingww2019 #readingwanderreviews #badasswomen #womeninhistory #sundayselfieshelfie

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Recently, her public moment has arrived: three books have been published and two movies are in the works, so Americans are finally going to know Virginia Hall in the way she deserves (if not the way she would have wanted).

As Sonia Purnell muses, “Through a lot of her life, the early life, she was constantly rejected and belittled. She was constantly just being dismissed as someone not very important of of no importance.”

Just one more example of “a woman of no importance” putting her head down and managing to change the world for the better, anyway.

Nevertheless, she persisted.