Donovan, William Joseph, MG

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Last Rank
Major General
Last Service Branch
Last Primary MOS
00G2-Army General Officer (G2)
Last MOS Group
General Officer
Primary Unit
1945-1946, U.S. Nuremberg Military Tribunal (NMT)
Service Years
1912 - 1946


Major General

Eight Overseas Service Bars

 Last Photo   Personal Details 

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Home State
New York
New York
Year of Birth
This Military Service Page was created/owned by the Site Administrator to remember Donovan, William Joseph (Wild Bill), MG USA(Ret).
Contact Info
Home Town
Buffalo, NY
Last Address
Buffalo, NY

Date of Passing
Feb 08, 1959
Location of Interment
Arlington National Cemetery - Arlington, Virginia
Wall/Plot Coordinates
Not Specified

 Official Badges 

US Army Retired Army Staff Identification Belgian Fourragere Wound Chevron (1917-1932)

Netherlands Orange Lanyard US Army Retired (Pre-2007) French Fourragere WWI Discharge Pin (Wounded)

 Unofficial Badges 

 Military Association Memberships
Congressional Medal Of Honor Society
  1918, Congressional Medal Of Honor Society [Verified]

 Additional Information
Last Known Activity

Major General William Joseph Donovan, KBE USA (January 1, 1883 – February 8, 1959) was an American soldier, lawyer and intelligence officer, best remembered as wartime head of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). He is also widely known as the "father" of today's Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Early life


Donovan was born in Buffalo, New York and attended St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute and Niagara University before starring on the football team at Columbia University. On the field, he got the nickname that would stick with him for the rest of his life, Wild Bill Donovan Donovan was also a member of Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity, and he graduated from Columbia in 1905.

Donovan was a member of the New York City "Establishment", a powerful Wall Street lawyer and a Columbia Law School classmate (1908) (but credited to 1907) of Franklin D. Roosevelt, although they were not close at the time.

In 1912, Donovan formed and led a troop of cavalry of the New York State Militia, that in 1916 served on the U.S.-Mexico border in the Pancho Villa campaign.

World War I

During World War I, Donovan organized and led a battalion of the United States Army, designated the 165th Regiment of the 42nd Division, the federalized designation of the famed 69th New York Volunteers, (the "Fighting 69th"). In France one of his charges was poet Joyce Kilmer. For his service near Landres-et-St. Georges, France, on 14 and 15 October 1918, he was awarded the Medal of Honor. By the end of the war he received a promotion to colonel, the Distinguished Service Cross and three Purple Hearts (the full text of his Medal of Honor Citation can be found further below).

Between the wars

After the war, he was the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York, famous for his energetic enforcement of Prohibition. President Calvin Coolidge named him to the United States Department of Justice's Antitrust Division. He ran unsuccessfully as a Republican for Governor of New York in 1932 and was soundly defeated by Democrat Herbert H. Lehman.

World War II

During the inter-war years, Donovan travelled extensively in Europe and met with foreign leaders including Adolf Hitler of Germany. Donovan openly believed during this time that a second major European war was all but inevitable. His foreign experience and realism earned him the attention and friendship of Columbia-classmate President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The two men were from opposing politicals parties, but they were similar in personality and Roosevelt came to highly value Donovan's insights. Following Germany's invasion of Poland in 1939 and the start of World War II in Europe, President Franklin D. Roosevelt began to put the United States on a war footing. This was a crisis of the sort that Donovan had predicted, and he sought out a place in the war infrastructure. On the recommendation of Donovan's friend United States Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox, Roosevelt gave Donovan a number of increasingly important assignments. In 1940 and 1941, Donovan travelled as an informal emissary to Britain, urged by Knox and Roosevelt to gauge Britain's ability to withstand Germany. Donovan during these trips met with key officials in the British war effort, including Winston Churchill himself and the directors of Britain's intelligence services. Donovan returned to the US confident of Britain's chances and enamored with the possibility of founding an American intelligence service modeled on that of the British.


In June 1941, Donovan received his most important assignment to date when Roosevelt named him Coordinator of Information (COI). American foreign intelligence at the time was a fragmented system. The Army, Navy, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), United States Department of State, and other interests each ran in-house operations the results of which they were reluctant to share with the other departments. Donovan was now the nominal director of this unwieldy system, but he was plagued over the course of the next year with brutal jurisdictional battles. Few of the leaders in the intelligence community were willing to part with any of the power that the current ad hoc system awarded them. The FBI, for example, under the control of Donovan's bitter rival J. Edgar Hoover, insisted on retaining its autonomy in South America.

Donovan forged ahead, though, and began to lay the groundwork for a centralized intelligence program. It was he who organized the COI's New York headquarters in Room 3603 of Rockefeller Center in October, 1941 and asked Allen Dulles to head it; the offices Dulles took over had been the location of the operations of Britain's MI6.

In 1942, the COI became the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and Donovan was returned to active duty in his World War I rank of colonel (by war's end, he would be promoted to major general). The OSS gradually earned responsibility for espionage and sabotage in Europe and in parts of Asia. The OSS continued to be kept out of South America by Hoover's hostility to Donovan, and it was blocked out of the Philippines by the antipathy of Douglas MacArthur.

For many years, the exploits of the OSS remained secret, but in the 1970s and 1980s, significant parts of the OSS history were declassified, and the exploits of Donovan's service became public record.

As World War II began to wind to a close in 1944, Donovan began to focus on preserving the OSS beyond the end of the war. After President Roosevelt's death in 1945, however, Donovan's political position, which had thrived on his personal connection to the President, was substantially weakened. Although he argued forcefully for the OSS' retention, he now found himself opposed by numerous powerful opponents, including President Harry S Truman, who personally disliked Donovan. Public opinion turned against Donovan's efforts when conservative critics rallied against the intelligence service that they called an 'American gestapo.' Truman disbanded the OSS, effective September 1945, and Donovan was returned to civilian life. Various departments of the OSS survived the agency's dissolution, however, and less than two years later, the Central Intelligence Agency was founded, a realization of Donovan's hopes for a centralized peacetime intelligence agency.

Post-war era

When the war had finished, Donovan reverted to his lifelong role as a lawyer to perform one last duty: he served as special assistant to chief prosecutor Telford Taylor at the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal.

There, he had the personal satisfaction of seeing Nazi leaders responsible for the torture and murder of captured OSS agents brought to justice. For his World War II service, Donovan received the Distinguished Service Medal, the highest award the United States military gives for service (rather than valor). He also received an honorary British knighthood.

At the conclusion of the trial, he returned to Wall Street where his law firm, Donovan, Leisure, Newton & Irvine, was a powerhouse. He remained always available to the postwar Presidents who needed his counsel — or his intelligence management experience.

In 1949, he became chairman of the newly-founded American Committee on United Europe, which worked to counter the new Communist threat to Europe by promoting European political unity.

Donovan's son, David Rumsey Donovan, was a naval officer who served with distinction in World War II. His grandson William James Donovan served as an enlisted soldier in Vietnam and is also buried at Arlington.

Donovan died on February 8, 1959, at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, in Washington, D.C. at the age of 76, and is buried in Section 2 of Arlington National Cemetery.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower referred to him as "the Last Hero", which later became the title of a biography of him. After his death, Donovan was awarded the Freedom Award of the International Rescue Committee (not, as some biographies state, the "Medal of Freedom", a different award).

The law firm he founded, Donovan, Leisure, Newton & Irvine was dissolved in 1998.

Major General Donovan is a member of the Military Intelligence Hall of Fame.

List of honors and decorations

American Awards

  • Medal of Honor
  • Distinguished Service Cross
  • Distinguished Service Medal with 1 Oak Leaf Cluster
  • Purple Heart with 2 Oak Leaf Clusters
  • National Security Medal
  • Mexican Service Medal
  • Mexican Border Service Medal
  • World War I Victory Medal with 5 Battle Clasps
  • Army of Occupation of Germany Medal
  • American Defense Service Medal
  • American Campaign Medal
  • Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with Arrowhead and 2 Bronze Service Stars
  • European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with Arrowheads, 2 Silver Service Stars, and 2 Bronze Service Stars
  • World War II Victory Medal
  • Armed Forces Reserve Medal with one ten-year hourglass device

Foreign Awards

  • Légion d'honneur (France) (World War I)
  • Commandant de la Légion d'honneur (France) (World War II)
  • Croix de guerre with Palm and Silver Star (France) (World War I)
  • Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire
  • Lateran Medal (Vatican)
  • Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St. Sylvester (Vatican)
  • Grand Officer of the Order of Léopold of Belgium with Palm
  • Czechoslovakian War Cross (1939)
  • Grand Officer of the Order of Orange Nassau (Netherlands)

Order of the British Empire

 Medal of the Order of Saint Sylvester and the Golden Militia, 1841.
Grand Officer of the Order of Léopold of Belgium with Palm 

Czech War cross
Order of Orange-Nassau
Orde van Oranje-Nassau

Medal of Honor citation

Rank and organization: Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Army, 165th Infantry, 42d Division. Place and date: Near Landres-et-St. Georges, France, 14-15 October 1918. Entered service at: Buffalo, N.Y. Born: 1 January 1883, Buffalo, N.Y. G.O., No.: 56, W.D., 1922.


Lt. Col. Donovan personally led the assaulting wave in an attack upon a very strongly organized position, and when our troops were suffering heavy casualties he encouraged all near him by his example, moving among his men in exposed positions, reorganizing decimated platoons, and accompanying them forward in attacks. When he was wounded in the leg by machine-gun bullets, he refused to be evacuated and continued with his unit until it withdrew to a less exposed position
Other Comments:
Nickname "Wild Bill"
Place of birth Buffalo, New York
Place of death Washington, D.C.
Resting place Arlington National Cemetery
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch United States Army
Years of service 1912-1918
Rank Major General
Commands held 69th Infantry Regiment (World War I)
Office of Strategic Services (World War II)
Battles/wars World War I
World War II
Awards Medal of Honor
Distinguished Service Cross
Distinguished Service Medal
Purple Heart (3)
Other work U.S. Attorney
Wall Street

The 165th Infantry in WW I was actually renumbered from the 69th Infantry Regiment:  The outbreak of World War I saw a resurrection of the old spirit of the 69th. Its ranks were filled with many Irish-Americans and other New Yorkers, and it was sent over to France in 1918 as part of the American Expeditionary Force at the start of the German Spring Offensive. All National Guard regiments received new "100 series" regimental numbers at that time. The 69th was renumbered the 165th Infantry Regiment, but retained its Irish symbolism and spirit. It saw heavy combat with the 42nd "Rainbow" Division. Three of its members won the Medal of Honor, including its famed commander, William Joseph Donovan.

It also produced Father Francis Duffy, "The Fighting Chaplain". In heavy fighting during the Hundred Days Offensive, it looked as if the regiment was to be overrun in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. Donovan gave Duffy grenades lest he be killed. Duffy refused, and unarmed, he continued to give last rites and help the wounded. Poet Joyce Kilmer was killed in the Second Battle of the Marne while a member of the regiment. One member of the Regiment killed in World War I was Daniel Buckley who survived the sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912.

The actual World War I exploits of the regiment formed the backdrop to the 1940 fictional movie The Fighting 69th. Father Duffy is memorialized in a statue at the north end of Times Square, which is technically "Duffy Square". World War II's Camp Kilmer was named for Joyce Kilmer and William Joseph Donovan went on to organize the OSS.

Born at Buffalo, New York, January 1, 1883, he earned the Medal of Honor for service in World War I, where he earned the nickname "Wild Bill."

He is the ONLY American to have received our nation's FOUR highest awards, The Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, the Distinguished Service Medal and the National Security Medal.

During World War II, he founded, and then led, the OSS (Office of Strategic Services - the predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Following the war, he served as an Assistant to Robert Jackson, Chief American Prosecutor at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials. He also served as United States Ambassador to Thailand in 1953.

He died at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. on February 8, 1959 and was buried among other family members in Section 2 of Arlington National Cemetery.

Faithful to the end, Ruth was at his bedside in the Pershing Suite when Donovan was "born into eternity" -- in the phrase of the priest -- at 1:55 PM on Sunday, February 8, 1959.  His brother, Vincent, in the robes of a Dominican, gave Donovan the last rites.  When he heard the news, President Eisenhower remarked: "What a man!  We have lost the last hero."


Dressed in his General's uniform, Donovan was buried three days later beside Patricia in Arlington National Cemetery amid a thunder of guns, trumpet calls and hymns.  Many of those at the graveside would remember thinking: "We shall not see his like again."

WJ Donovan PHOTO



Rank and organization: Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Army, 165th Infantry, 42d Division. Place and date: Near Landres-et-St. Georges, France, 14-15 October 1918. Entered service at: Buffalo, New York. Born: 1 January 1883, Buffalo, New York. G.O., No.: 56, W.D., 1922. 


Lieutenant Colonel Donovan personally led the assaulting wave in an attack upon a very strongly organized position, and when our troops were suffering heavy casualties he encouraged all near him by his example, moving among his men in exposed positions, reorganizing decimated platoons, and accompanying them forward in attacks. When he was wounded in the leg by machine-gun bullets, he refused to be evacuated and continued with his unit until it withdrew to a less exposed position.

William Joseph Donovan Gravesite PHOTO

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World War I/Meuse-Argonne Campaign
From Month/Year
September / 1918
To Month/Year
November / 1918

Meuse-Argonne, 26 September - 11 November 1918. At the end of August Marshal Foch had submitted plane to the national commanders for a final offensive along the entire Western Front, with the objective of driving the enemy out of France before winter and ending the war in the spring of 1919. The basis for his optimism was the success of Allied attacks all along the front in August. Furthermore, he pointed out, the Allies already had active operations in progress between the Moselle and Meuse, the Oise and Aisne, and on the Somme and Lys Rivers. Foch acknowledged that the Germans could stave off immediate defeat by an orderly evacuation combined with destruction of materiel and communications. Therefore the overall aim of the fall offensive would be to prevent a step-by-step enemy retirement. As Foch anticipated, the Germans eventually contributed to the success of his strategy. Their High Command could not bring itself to sacrifice the huge stores collected behind the front lines, and so delayed the withdrawal of its armies.

Foch's great offensive, planned to begin in the last week of September, called for a gigantic pincers movement with the objective of capturing Aulnoye and Mézières, the two key junctions in the lateral rail system behind the German front. Lose of either of these junctions would hamper seriously the German withdrawal. Despite grumbling from the English that they lacked the necessary manpower, a chiefly British army was assigned the teak of driving toward Aulnoye. The A.E.F. was designated for the southern arm of the pincers, the thrust on Mézières. Simultaneously the Belgian-French-British army group in Flanders would drive toward Ghent, and the French armies in the Oise-Aisne region would exert pressure all along their front to lend support to the pincers attack.

Pershing decided to strike his heaviest blow in a zone about 20 miles wide between the Heights of the Meuse on the east and the western edge of the high, rough, and densely wooded Argonne Forest. This is difficult terrain, broken by a central north-south ridge that dominates the valleys of the Meuse and Aire Rivers. Three heavily fortified places-Montfaucon, Cunel, and Barricourt-as well as numerous strong points barred the way to penetration of the elaborate German defenses in depth that extended behind the entire front. This fortified system consisted of three main defense lines backed up by a fourth line less well-constructed. Pershing hoped to launch an attack with enough momentum to drive through these lines into the open area beyond, where his troops could then strike at the exposed German flanks and, in a coordinated drive with the French Fourth Army coming up on the left, could cut the Sedan- Mézières railroad.

The task of assembling troops in the concentration area between Verdun and the Argonne was complicated by the fact that many American unite were currently engaged in the St. Mihiel battle. Some 600,000 Americans had to be moved into the Argonne sector while 220,000 French moved out. Responsibility for solving this tricky logistical problem fell to Col. George C. Marshall, Assistant Chief of Staff, G-3 (Operations), First Army. In the ten-day period after St. Mihiel the necessary troop movements were accomplished, but many untried divisions had to be placed in the vanguard of the attacking forces.

On the 20-mile Meuse-Argonne front where the main American attack w to be made, Pershing disposed three corps side by side, each with three divisions in line and one in corps reserve. In the center was the V Corps (from right to left the 79th, 37th, and 91st Divisions with the 32d in reserve), which would strike the decisive blow. On the right was the III Corps (from right to left the 33d, 80th, and 4th Divisions with the 3d in reserve), which would move up the west aide of the Meuse. On the left was the I Corps (from right to left the 35th, 28th, and 77th Divisions with the 92d in reserve), which would advance parallel to the French Fourth Army on its left. Eastward across the Meuse the American front extended in direct line some 60 miles; this sector was held by two French Corps (IV and II Colonial) and the American IV Corps in the St. Mihiel sector. Pershing had available to support his offensive nearly 4000 guns, two-thirds manned by American artillerymen; 190 light French tanks, mostly with American personnel; and some 820 aircraft, 600 of them flown by Americans.

The Meuse-Argonne Offensive falls into three phases. During the initial phase (26 September-3-October) the First Army advanced through most of the southern Meuse-Argonne region, captured enemy strong points, seized the first two German defense lines, and then stalled before the third line. Failure of tank support, a difficult supply situation, and the inexperience of American troops all contributed to checking its advance.

In the second phase (4-31 October) the First Army, after the inexperienced divisions had been replaced by veteran units, slowly ground its way through the third German line. The enemy was forced to throw in reserves, drawn from other parts of the front, thus aiding the Allied advances elsewhere. In the face of a stubborn defense, American gains were limited and casualties were severe, especially as a result of the newly devised enemy tactic of attacking frontline troops with airplanes. First Army air unite retaliated with bombing raids which broke up German preparations for counterattacks. By the end of October the enemy had been cleared from the Argonne and First Army troops were through the German main positions. Two notable incidents of this phase of the campaign were the fight of the "Lost Battalion" of the 77th Division (2-7 October), and the feat of Corp. (later Sgt.) Alvin C. York, who single-handedly killed 15 Germans and captured 132 on 8 October.

In mid-October the organization of the Second Army was completed, at Toul in the St. Mihiel sector, to provide means for better control of the lengthening American front and solutions of the diverse tactical problems that it presented. Pershing assumed command of the new army group thus formed.

Before the third and final phase (1-11 November) of the offensive got under way, many of the exhausted divisions of the First Army were replaced, roads were built or repaired, supply was improved, and most Allied units serving with the A.E.F. were withdrawn. On 1 November First Army units began the assault of the now strengthened German fourth line of defense. Penetration was rapid and spectacular. The V Corps in the center advanced about six miles the first day, compelling the German units west of the Meuse to withdraw hurriedly. On 4 November the III Corps forced a crossing of the Meuse and advanced northeast toward Montmédy. Elements of the V Corps occupied the heights opposite Sedan on 7 November, thus finally accomplishing the First Army's chief mission-denial of the Sedan- Mézières railroad to the Germans. Marshal Foch, at this juncture, shifted the First Army left boundary eastward so that the French Fourth Army might capture Sedan, which had fallen to the Prussians in 1870. American units were closing up along the Mouse and, east of the river, were advancing toward Montmédy, Briny, and Metz, when hostilities ended on 11 November.

General Pershing authorized the results of the Meuse-Argonne Campaign, the greatest battle in American history up to that time, in his Final Report: "Between September 26 and November 11, 22 American and 4 French divisions, on the front extending from southeast of Verdun to the Argonne Forest, had engaged and decisively beaten 47 different German divisions, representing 25 percent of the enemy's entire divisional strength on the western front.

 The First Army suffered a loss of about 117,000 in killed and wounded. It captured 26,000 prisoners, 847 cannon, 3,000 machineguns, and large quantities of material." More than 1,200,000 Americans had taken part in the 47-day campaign.
My Participation in This Battle or Operation
From Month/Year
September / 1918
To Month/Year
November / 1918
Last Updated:
Mar 16, 2020
Personal Memories
Units Participated in Operation

192d Military Police Battalion

1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment

838th Military Police Company

192nd Military Police Battalion

3rd Military Police Company

3rd Infantry Division

My Photos From This Battle or Operation
No Available Photos

  436 Also There at This Battle:
  • Agee, Alfred, PFC, (1918-1919)
  • Anderson, Howard, WAG, (1917-1919)
  • Baesel, Albert (MOH), 2LT, (1917-1918)
  • Balentine, Herman Dwight, Cpl, (1918-1919)
  • Baylor, Bernard, MAJ, (1911-1953)
  • Beckwith, Edward (SS), MAJ, (1895-1925)
  • Bernard, Louis, CPL, (1917-1919)
  • Bracken, Jessie, PFC, (1917-1919)
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