Stephanie Rader, a 100-year-old woman who worked as an undercover spy in Poland at the end of World War II, may still get the Legion of Merit that eluded her for nearly 70 years—but it will be a posthumous honor. Rader died Thursday, after fighting Parkinson’s disease, a family friend told me.
I wrote about Rader in a long profile last month. At the time, a group of neighborhood friends who were caring for her every day—taking Rader to doctors appointments, out to dinner, reading to her—had also taken up the cause of pushing through a Legion of Merit recommendation that was approved by Rader’s senior officers in 1946. The War Department, though, thought she should get a lesser award.
Rader perhaps had two strikes against her. First, she was a woman. Second, she was a member of the newly formed Office of Strategic Services, the United States’ first central intelligence service and the precursor to the CIA. The OSS didn’t have the clout of today’s spy agency. It seems that though her service was undeniably heroic, the military bureaucracy that decides who gets awards wasn’t on her side.
Rader, then Czech, was just one of two OSS members serving in Poland in 1945 and the only one who spoke Polish fluently. That meant she was given the most important assignments and the most dangerous ones. She monitored Russian troop movements and gathering information from a network of agents. In one harrowing operation, she evaded capture by Russian security forces, who, she was sure, would have sent her to a prison in Siberia, never to be heard from again.