Sunday, February 27, 2005

The precocious spy?

The Times today carries the obituary of Robert W. Kearns, former Professor of Engineering at Wayne State University, who passed away at age 77.

Dr. Kearns' claim to fame was winning one of the most famous of patent cases where the little guy took down the big guys. He invented and patented the intermittent windshield wiper mechanism for use in light rain or mist and tried to interest the big auto makers in it, but they all rejected his idea. Then when they all afterward installed intermittent wipers on their cars he sued them all for patent infringement and took them all for the big bucks. But that's another story.

The obit says Dr. Kearns had a second accomplishment:
He was a member of the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency, during World War II.
Hmmm... Given his age of 77 this year (birth confirmed at March 10, 1927) he was 14 years old on the date of Pearl Harbor, didn't turn 18 until two months before the war in Europe ended, and still was only 18 when the OSS was dissolved in October of '45. So I assumed the OSS reference was a mistake.

But apparently not, for it is in other reference pages about him as well, and he even later served as a member of the Board of Directors of the Veterans of the Office of Strategic Services.

So enough about windshield wipers -- what does it mean to be "a member of the Office of Strategic Services" at age 17? (or 16? 15??).

My first guess would be something like he enlisted in the Army young and got assigned to an OSS mail room sorting letters -- but does that make one a "member", and set one up to be on the future Board of Directors of the Veterans group along with Bill Casey?

No further explanation given. Throw away lines like that in obits drive me batty.

(Maybe it was his OSS bretheren who arranged to get all that money out of GM?...)