AMERICA REMEMBERS: The beautiful Mrs. Doris Bohrer, an American World War II and Cold War Spy for the Allies, Dies at 93
Doris Bohrer, who as a spy for the Office of Strategic Services during World War II helped plan the Allied invasion of Sicily and traced the movement of German trains transporting prisoners to concentration camps in Greensboro, N.C. She was 93. Her death was confirmed by her son, Jason.
In 1942, Doris Sharrar, as she was then known, was two years out of high school in suburban Washington and looking for a job. She took the Civil Service exam and, for reasons that were never explained to her, got a job offer from the O.S.S., the wartime intelligence agency created to run spy operations behind enemy lines.
Nearly all women hired by the O.S.S. were assigned to clerical work, and Ms. Sharrar was no exception. She started out typing intelligence reports at “Q Building” in O.S.S. headquarters in Foggy Bottom. In his foreword to “Undercover Girl,” the 1947 memoir of another O.S.S. agent, Elizabeth P. McIntosh, William J. Donovan, the head of the O.S.S., called the women holding such jobs “the invisible apron strings” of the agency.
Ms. Sharrar quickly advanced beyond apron-string grade, one of the few women to do so. After a year of typing, she was selected to attend photo reconnaissance school and posted to Egypt. As part of her duties, she created balsa-wood relief maps of Sicily as the Allies prepared to invade Italy.
She was later posted to Bari, on the Adriatic coast, where, working jointly with the 15th Air Force, she studied aerial photographs to select sites for dropping and rescuing O.S.S. agents behind enemy lines. She also gathered intelligence about German military movements and the location of arms factories.
“It was like looking at the world with a magnifying glass,” Ms. Sharrar told Ann Curry of NBC News in 2013. “It was a little challenge trying to figure out what the Germans were doing, where they were sending the railroad cars, what they were picking up, what they were manufacturing in the factories, how many airplanes were on the airfields.”
In an interview with The Washington Post in 2011, she said: “That’s how we knew where the concentration camps were located, but we were too late. We kept wondering where the trains were going.”
Ms. Sharrar married Charles A. Bohrer after the war and continued working for the O.S.S.’s successor organization, the C.I.A., formed in 1947. In Frankfurt, she wrote intelligence reports on German scientists who had been held by the Soviet Union. After returning to Washington, she served as deputy chief of counterintelligence, training staff members on the workings of the Soviet and East German intelligence services.
Her work remained secret until The Post, in 2011, discovered that she and Ms. McIntosh, the author of “Undercover Girl” and a second memoir, “Sisterhood of Spies: The Women of the O.S.S.” (2009), both lived at a retirement home in Northern Virginia and had become good friends. Neither knew the other during the war, when Ms. McIntosh carried out propaganda campaigns in China.
Doris Arlene Sharrar was born on Feb. 5, 1923, in Basin, Wyo. Her father, Frank, was a teacher, and her mother, Dora, was a homemaker. When the family relocated to Silver Spring, Md., so her father could take a job with the Veterans Administration (now known as the Department of Veterans Affairs), she attended Montgomery Blair High School, graduating in 1940.
After retiring from the C.I.A. in the 1970s, Ms. Bohrer sold real estate in Alexandria, Va. Her husband, the director of the C.I.A.’s office of medical services, died in 2007. In addition to her son, she is survived by two grandchildren.
In October 2013, Ms. Bohrer and Ms. McIntosh traveled to C.I.A. headquarters in Langley, Va., to meet two of the highest-ranking women in the C.I.A.: Fran Moore, the director of intelligence, and Sue Gordon, director for support. During the meeting, the director of the agency, John O. Brennan, thanked the women for their service.
In their day, they had encountered condescension and naked hostility from male agents. “Everybody else was ‘Lieutenant So-and-So,’ or ‘Captain This,’” Ms. Bohrer told NBC. “We were ‘the girls.’ I was doing the exact same thing as majors and lieutenant colonels, but I was ‘the girls.’”
She had a measure of revenge. One day she asked permission to carry a hand grenade, like the Yugoslav partisan with whom she was working, a woman. When her request was denied, she had an engineer friend fashion a dud grenade, which she displayed while eating at the mess hall.
The O.S.S. officer who denied her request saw the grenade and told her, “Honey, I’m going to reach over now and take it from you before anyone gets killed.” She slammed it on the table.
“When I reached for the handle, the boys went out the windows,” she told NBC. “They just disappeared. And I sat there and ate my salad.”
On behalf of The Greatest Generations Foundation and its members, we salute Mrs. Doris Bohrer for your service and dedication to our freedom. We will never forget you.
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