You must admire a man who can keep a wartime secret — especially for a lifetime.
That man is Semeon “Sam” Simollari, 94, formerly of Wayland — and Boston’s old West End — who served with the OSS behind enemy lines in Albania fighting the Nazis during World War II.
The OSS — Office of Strategic Services — was the wartime organisation that secretly parachuted soldiers like Sam into countries occupied by the Germans. The OSS became the CIA after the war.
Sam was but one of millions of young men who volunteered for the U.S. Army upon the outbreak of the war after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7,1941.
The newly formed OSS, headed by Army Gen. William “Wild Bill” Donovan, sought to recruit ethnic Americans like Sam to fight in the countries of their origin that were occupied by the Germans.
The theory — which worked out in practice — was that highly trained soldiers would be effective because they knew the language, culture and history of their ancestral homes. In Sam’s case, the country was Albania, from which he emigrated as a boy.
Sam was assigned to the 35-member OSS Albanian Unit — most of whom spoke Albanian — that was stationed in Bari, Italy. From there the men were parachuted into southern Albania, or inserted by boat, to join forces with the partisans.
Their goal in countries like France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Greece, Italy, Albania and elsewhere was to arm and train partisans, gather intelligence and generally wreak havoc in countries occupied by the Germans.
Sam is one of those vanishing soldiers of the Greatest Generation who for years chose to remain unrecognised for his service during WWII. Like many wartime veterans, Sam did not talk about what he did or what he saw — not to his wife, his children or to me.