Local WWII vet gets replica Congressional Gold Medal


Copyright 2018 Lou Michaels • Over the years, Robert Holmstrom was awarded several military medals and commendations for his service in World War II, including the Croix de Guerre by the French government. In March, he and other OSS members collectively received the highest civilian honor when Congress presented them the Congressional Gold Medal, and on Aug. 6 U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum presented Holmstrom with a replica of that medal.

Copyright 2018 Lou Michaels • Memorabilia was also on display in her St. Paul office during the event.

Copyright 2018 Lou Michaels • U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum presented 92-year-old Robert Holmstrom of Maplewood a replica Congressional Gold Medal Aug. 6 for his service in the dangerous Carpetbagger missions of World War II.

Aundrea Kinney/Review • Robert Holmstrom’s experiences in the OSS during World War II were compiled and recently published in a 230-page book titled “Warbirds in the Cloak of Darkness,” by Sandra Fabian Butalla. The book can be purchased at a signing event that will be held at the American Legion Post 39, 2678 Seventh Ave. E., in North St. Paul, on Wednesday, Aug. 22, from 4 to 6 p.m.

World War II veteran Robert Holmstrom of Maplewood was formally honored by U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum when she presented him a replica Congressional Gold Medal at her St. Paul office Aug. 6 for his part in the victory of the Allied forces.

The following day, the 92-year-old noted that the event was “real good,” even though he said he had been quite nervous before hand.

During World War II, Staff Sgt. Holmstrom participated in missions for the U.S. Office of Strategic Services under Operation Carpetbagger. The secret missions involved flying into Nazi-occupied France in an unprotected aircraft, often by moonlight, to drop supplies, weapons and agents.

“His bravery and skill were integral to the success of these missions,” noted a press release from McCollum’s office.

The OSS would later become the Central Intelligence Agency.

Although the sworn secrecy of the Carpetbaggers expired forty years after the war, few have heard what really happened, until now.

Holmstrom’s experiences in the OSS were compiled and recently published in a 230-page book called “Warbirds in the Cloak of Darkness,” by Sandra Fabian Butalla. 

The book pulls the reader into Holmstrom’s world, that of a young Minnesota man who was familiar with hardship and survival, even before becoming an Army airman. The book details Holmstrom’s part in the dangerous Carpetbagger missions involving spies and covert operations, and shines a light on what the author calls “one of America’s best-kept secrets.”

 

Other recognition

Over the years, Holmstrom was awarded several military medals and commendations, including the Croix de Guerre by the French government. 

Then, in March, he and other OSS members collectively received the highest civilian honor when Congress presented them the Congressional Gold Medal.

The release from McCollum’s office explained that “[s]ince the American Revolution, Congress has commissioned gold medals as its highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions.”

According to the CIA, the OSS employed around 13,000 men and women at its peak in 1944, though today fewer than 100 are alive. Holmstrom was one of only 20 former OSS members who were able to travel to Washington, D.C., in March to receive the medal.

 

Making the book 

“Warbirds” is Butalla’s second published book. Her first, “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” is also about a World War II airman, though its story details a harrowing fall from a B-17 as it broke apart over the North Sea.

Holmstrom and Butalla were connected through the son of one of Holmstrom’s friends, who knew Butalla was looking to help a World War II veteran share his or her story.

Holmstrom noted that it took some 18 months following Butalla’s initial phone call before the book was ready to be published. He explained that the most time-consuming part was tracking down and getting permission from the other people who make appearances in the text and photographs.

“Warbirds in the Cloak of Darkness” can be purchased at a book-signing event that will be held at the American Legion Post 39, 2678 Seventh Ave. E., in North St. Paul on Wednesday, Aug. 22 from 4 to 6 p.m.

Holmstrom said that the proceeds from the books he sells will be donated to the American Legion and the Veterans Affairs Home in Hastings. For those who cannot make it to the event, books can be purchased from Holmstrom directly by calling 651-739-8355.

 

– Aundrea Kinney can be reached at 651-748-7822 or akinney@lillienews.com

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