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A Picture From History: Walter Mess

We look at the fascinating life of Walter Mess, an unsung OSS hero of World War II, in our latest dive into history.

Walter Mess, born 1914, died 2013 was a family man.

Married for 61 years to his wife Jean Ogle Mess they had 4 children, 11 grandchildren, and 20 great-grandchildren as of 2013.

Walter Mess, age 93, 2013
Walter Mess, age 93, 2013

For nearly 30 years he was the chairman of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority. Under his leadership, they developed 45 miles of park trail and preserved more than 10,000 acres of shoreline.

Just looking at him, you might assume he was a nice old man — and he was. But he was also one of the most effective operatives America ever had. 

Conducting espionage since 1938, 15 parachute jumps into enemy-held areas, over 100 secret missions, and a forerunner for the CIA and the Navy SEALs, Mr. Mess was one hard dude.

I started this Picture From History looking for pictures about the OSS, UDTs, and Frogmen of WWII. But after reading about Mr. Mess, I think highlighting this one man’s contributions to the war is worth an article on its own.

UDT 3 Welcome US Marines
OSS Underwater Demolition Teams would often leave signs on the beach to remind invading US Marines that they were not the first Americans to hit the beach.

The OSS was basically the CIA before the CIA was the CIA. Founded officially in 1942 the Office of Strategic Services was a reorganization of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research.

Think of the OSS as a cross between our modern Central Intelligence Agency and the United States Special Operations Command.

They were in charge of a lot of spy stuff, but also what we would consider today to be military special forces like SEALs.

The OSS Symbol, Now Used by USSOCOM
The OSS Symbol, Now Used by USSOCOM

The history of the OSS, Frogmen, and Underwater Demolition Teams is something I’ll cover in detail soon. But for now, let’s talk about Mr. Mess.

Before America joined the war, Mess jumped into Czechoslovakia where he recruited four local men. He brought them back to the U.S. where they trained as agents, then reinserted into Czechoslovakia.

He then did the same thing in Poland — recruiting, extracting, and training three more agents.

A few years later in 1943, Mess became the Flotilla Officer Commander for the OSS’s Maritime Unit.

Side note, the Maritime Unit was one of the OSS’s special forces units — the original Frogmen, serving as most of the basis for the SEAL’s creation.

PT Boat P-564 1943
PT Boat P-564 1943, 1st Lt. Mess center front

Under his command, PT Boat P-564 operated in the Bay of Bengal and conducted 36 missions. He, his boat, the men under him, and the Swimmer teams rescued over 220 downed allied airmen from the Burma coast.

In 1944, Mess and his boat operated as the water platform for the OSS’s Operational Groups and Secret Intelligence missions.

These were some of the first underwater missions ever conducted.

A year later, in 1945, Mess transferred to OSS Detachment 404 (very similar in operational use to modern-day U.S. Army Special Forces).

Detatchment 404, Burma, 1945
OSS Detachment 404, Burma, 1945

With Det. 404, Mess made 15 combat jumps supporting OSS teams in operations in Burma and Thailand. These missions were accomplished with basically zero allied support, relying on locals to assist.

While trigger pullers get most of the glory from Hollywood movies, men like Mess make it all happen.

Describing his mission in the war as that of a “taxi driver,” Mess and his crew would slip past Japanese encampments deep into enemy-held territory to rescue pilots, aircrewmen, OSS operatives, and POWs.

His service would result in hundreds of Americans and allies rescued, thousands of enemy KIA, and staggering losses and disruption to the Japanese war effort in the Pacific. 

Walter Mess, age 93, 2013
Walter Mess, age 93, 2013

Along the way, he earned multiple Bronze Stars, “a lot of other fancy things,” as he said it. He would later be given an honorary Green Beret. 

This is a new style of article for Pew Pew Tactical, if you liked it — let us know in the comments! If you didn’t enjoy it…well phooey. To catch up on previous Pictures From History, click on over to our History Category.

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21 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar

    What a beautiful story. Thx.

    December 28, 2022 8:51 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    Excellent article. I have never heard of this great man. Thank you, pew pew for this. Keep them coming! In times like these, and with so much strife in the air, I need it.

    June 28, 2021 3:04 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Ranger J

    Wow. One if the most interesting stories I have red in a long while. God Bless Mr. Mess and those of his ilk.

    June 16, 2021 5:17 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    Absolutely enjoyed reading about Mr. Mess. Ordinary men in challenging times rising up to do the extra-ordinary...and I'll bet he didn't brag much later....

    June 15, 2021 6:23 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Robert Holloway

    Great story. Look forward to more of them

    June 15, 2021 4:25 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    Wonderful story that deserved sharing about an amazing man.

    June 14, 2021 2:50 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    W. Alexander

    I really enjoyed the read, thank you.
    More articles of a similar vein would also be great.

    June 13, 2021 11:31 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    L. Mitchell

    Hell yes, I like it. Walter Mess was a Righteous Man. An adult male doing his duty. Abroad and for more than 60 years, at home. We should know of and be inspired by such men . Thanks, David for sharing a little of his story with us. Keep it up.

    June 13, 2021 5:44 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    V. L Elliott

    Fascinating man and his service. More please.

    June 13, 2021 3:30 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Aaron Woodall

    Great article on a great man.

    June 13, 2021 3:27 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Kent Woodburn

    Fantastic stuff. Please keep the history lessons coming!

    June 13, 2021 2:58 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Gary Krieg

    These are great reads

    June 13, 2021 2:55 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    Great Stuff! You helped me build my 1st AR-15, and now you're showing all of us what we were once, and hope to be again! Thanks!

    June 13, 2021 2:50 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    Excellent! Learn from history!

    June 12, 2021 12:57 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Jack Hauser

    Great work, please keep it up.

    June 12, 2021 9:11 am
  • Commenter Avatar

    Amazing man, doing amazing things, during amazing times.

    June 12, 2021 6:51 am
  • Commenter Avatar

    Thanks for sharing his story...

    June 12, 2021 3:54 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Daniel Hecht

    Very good!

    June 12, 2021 3:36 am
  • Commenter Avatar

    Very interesting article.

    June 12, 2021 12:12 am
  • Commenter Avatar

    Another good history lesson. I just finished a book on the Alamo Scouts, an intelligence gathering group put together by General MacArthur in ww2. It appears that the general didn't trust the OSS. Looking forward to the next article.

    June 11, 2021 9:19 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    pochi 1st gen.

    As a first generation American I loved it.

    June 11, 2021 6:12 pm
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