Retired Col. William Pietsch Jr. of Kensington was presented Oct. 20 with the Riverside Distinguished Service Award for his military service. After graduating from Riverside, a preparatory school for young men, 16-year-old Pietsch became the youngest cadet in modern history to receive an appointment to U.S. Military Academy-West Point in 1938, according to a press release from Riverside.
His military aspirations were inspired by his family — his father served during World War I and Pietsch can trace his roots back to the knights of the Holy Roman Empire — and family friends, who included President Franklin D. Roosevelt, his father’s lodge brother, Pietsch said.
After being invited to Roosevelt’s Maryland retreat Shangri-La, which was later renamed Camp David, Pietsch became the third American seconded to the Special Operations Executive, a British organization that provided covert assistance to resistance movements in occupied Europe.
Pietsch parachuted into Nazi-occupied France, where he helped the French resistance obtain weapons, ammunition, and transportation, according to the release. He also escorted Patton and the third army from Normandy to Switzerland.
“I had the privilege of knowing General [George] Patton,” he said. “He was not a big man like the actor who played his part. He was a man of modest size.”
Following World War II, he made forays into the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, various Arab countries, and Viet Nam, according to the release. Pietsch, 90, retired after more than 30 years as a special operations officer, and remains active in the Office of Strategic Services Society, which celebrates the accomplishments of the OSS during World War II.