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Robert Kehoe (1922–2020), American WWII hero of the French Resistance

by Linnea Crowther

Robert Kehoe was a U.S. Army veteran of World War II who was honored with the Distinguished Service Cross for his work with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) to aid the French Resistance.

Aiding the resistance

Kehoe joined the Army Signal Corps as a radio operator when the U.S. entered World War II. But as the war intensified, a new role for Kehoe was developing. The U.S. formed the OSS in June of 1942, creating a new intelligence agency to conduct espionage behind enemy lines. Kehoe was recruited for the OSS based on his willingness to jump from a plane into enemy territory. Kehoe quickly proved his bravery as he aided the French Resistance by sabotaging German forces and organizing airdrops of supplies and weapons for the French.

The motto of the OSS was “surprise, kill, vanish,” and Kehoe was among the operatives who did just that as a member of Operation Jedburgh. Jedburghs like Kehoe were placed in Europe in advance of D-Day with a goal of preparing Western Europe for the Allied invasion that was to come. They conducted small-scale but devastating attacks – bombing train cars carrying Nazi supplies, disabling German tanks – that helped destabilize Nazi forces in order to smooth the way for the Allies to invade.

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As the war ended, the OSS transitioned into several other organizations including the CIA. Kehoe worked for the CIA from 1949 until his retirement in 1984.

Notable quote

“[O]ur mission and others like it were more valuable for their political and social impact than their military aspects. We helped France rebuild its self-image after the dreadful debacle of 1940 and the long years of occupation. We did not make people love one another, but, on a small scale, we helped Frenchmen realize that they had to work together.” —from Kehoe’s memoir, “1944: An Allied Team With the French Resistance”

Tributes to Robert Kehoe

“Despite the grave personal danger to himself, he maintained scheduled radio transmission with London headquarters and made possible the sending and effective use of resistance forces numbering more than 4,000. He actively participated in sabotage activities and in joint American-French actions . . . [that] contributed immeasurably to the success achieved by the French resistance forces in their support of the allied armies.” —from Kehoe’s Distinguished Service Cross citation

Full obituary: The Washington Post

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