The untold story of Post Office Box 1142 is one that defines us as a people. It is a shining example that, by sticking to our American values and principles, we can and will triumph over our enemies.
From 1942 until the end of WWII, top secret military intelligence operations were carried out at Ft. Hunt Park in Fairfax County. Known only by its mailing address, Post Office Box 1142, the men and women at this post provided the military intelligence that helped bring an end to World War II and gave the United States the early advantage in the Cold War.
PO Box 1142 was conceived as a joint Army/Navy installation. Soldiers in the PO Box 1142 unit were tasked with interrogating Nazi soldiers and later, high ranking German scientists. Throughout the war and in its aftermath, the post processed and interrogated nearly 4,000 of the most important German prisoners of war. The information they uncovered — without the use of torture or indeterminate detention — led to crucial intelligence gains and contributed greatly to our eventual success in the war.
The men who performed the interrogations were drawn from across the country. The shared attribute is that they all spoke fluent German to be able to interact with their captives. Some of these men left Europe just prior to the war, and most had friends and family battling on the front lines against Nazi Germany. To them, the war was not just a conflict of nations. It was far more personal and would impact their lives forever.
Despite these circumstances, the interrogations never resorted to torture, used violence or implemented cruel tactics to obtain the vital information required to support our nation at war. Instead, each and every officer reported that their most effective interrogation technique was to start a dialogue to develop trust with their captives. They talked with their captives, played card games, took walks, discussed their lives, and ultimately, purged the necessary information from the captives.
Despite the apparent simplicity of these methods, these interrogations resulted in the discovery of most of Germany’s secret weapons programs. PO Box 1142 learned about research to develop the atomic bomb, the jet engine and the V-2 rocket – all technologies that became essential components in the Cold War. The detainment and interrogation of high-ranking German officials, such as Reinhard Gehlen, advanced military intelligence operations beyond the Soviet Union’s own capabilities.
Until only very recently, no one, not even their families, had any idea of the service they provided our nation. It wasn’t until Park Rangers from the George Washington Memorial Parkway uncovered declassified documents and met former officers of PO Box 1142 that the operations that occurred at Fort Hunt Park during World War II came to public light. Under the encouragement of the National Park Service, these Park Rangers identified veterans of PO Box 1142. They began conducting professional oral history interviews and delved deeply into research on their activities.
This Veteran’s Day, we remember all our veterans, thanking them for their service and sacrifice in support of our great nation. This year, I would like to give special recognition to the before unacknowledged soldiers of PO Box 1142. These individuals are American heroes and deserve praise for their actions, successfully routing the forces of fascism and hate during WWII.