On Veterans Day, Remembering One Woman's War

by Luis Carlos Montalvan

MVQ_Army_1943 Pulling on her size 4 1/2 combat boots to meet her driver who sped through wartime Italy’s treacherous streets, Sgt. Myrtle Vacirca had no time to reflect on how her own unlikely history of peril and promise had brought her to this point. That day in 1943, she was just another member of the OSS: Office of Strategic Services, an elite, global force of intelligence agents created by President Franklin Roosevelt, and had been summoned to the villa of the American head of the OSS in Italy, Raymond Rocca.

Hurtling through those winding streets of Rome, Vacirca had no time to reflect on how meticulously and passionately her team gathered intelligence to protect Allied forces and achieve Allied goals. Nor did she consider the twists and ironies that had brought the Massachusetts-born woman back to her ancestral home — with a role unimagined for the daughter of political activists and journalists, who’d been forced from their beloved Italy by the very fascists she was now tasked to help defeat. Vacirca could only pray that the intelligence they gathered was enough to meet urgent needs: There was no room for error.

Montalvan_MVQ_2_Nov_8_2009 Sixty-six years later, just after her ninety-third birthday the former Sgt. Myrtle Vacirca, now Vacirca-Quinn, awaits a different kind of intelligence: news that the new Secretary of the Army, John McHugh, has chosen to award her the Bronze Star, the fourth-highest combat award awarded in the the U.S. armed forces, for “…for meritorious service and sustained superior performance in the line of duty in the European African Middle Eastern Theater of Operations with the Office of Strategic Services." Back then, such awards were rarely given to women, who were just beginning to play the essential role they do in today's military. But in 1943, Vacirca wasn’t thinking about awards, or much else besides defeating the Axis.

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