When you’re related to the first director of the Central Intelligence Agency, you get invited to cool events like award banquets in Washington, D.C.
Orcas High School senior Melanie Flint and her father Norm traveled to the East Coast to see the Honorable Leon Panetta win the William J. Donovan award, an annual decoration given in honor of Melanie’s great-great-uncle, Donovan, who is known as the “Father of Central Intelligence.”
“I didn’t really know what Donovan did – it was really more just sentimental, knowing he was part of our family … but then there are all these people who were excited to know who I am because of him,” Melanie said.
Donovan was a United States soldier, lawyer, intelligence officer and diplomat. He is best remembered as the wartime head of the Office of Strategic Services, a precursor to the CIA, during World War II. Donovan is the only person to receive the nation’s four highest decorations: the Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, the Distinguished Service Medal and the National Security Medal. He is also a recipient of the Silver Star and the Purple Heart.
The OSS Society presents the award to an individual who has rendered distinguished service to the United States. Its purpose is to recognize someone who has exemplified the distinguishing features that characterized Donovan’s lifetime of public service as a citizen and a soldier. Previous winners include Dwight D. Eisenhower, Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
This year’s winner, Panetta, is a former director of the CIA and served as the 23rd Secretary of Defense. As director of the CIA, Panetta oversaw the U.S. military operation that led to Osama bin Laden’s death.
Melanie and Norm traveled to Washington, D.C. at the end of October to be a part of the festivities. Christopher Pinck, president of the OSS Society, took Melanie and her dad to a “smaller” dinner the night before the awards banquet.
“At first, it looked really small,” Melanie said. “Then I go through the door and there are nine tables with nine people at each one. There were a lot of really important people in that room.”
The following evening, she and her dad attended the black-tie awards ceremony at the Ritz Carlton.
“It was the most unbelievable event I have ever attended in my life,” Norm said.
More than 900 people were in attendance. The guest list included war veterans, retired spies, former CIA employees and government officials. Everyone enjoyed a meal of Julia Childs’ most famous recipes and discussions that went on into the wee hours of the morning.
“The banquet was a shock – all the people we had dinner with the night before were at the front of the room, giving toasts and making speeches,” Melanie said. “It was like being at a Seahawks game – everyone was talking and it was so loud. But I still had interesting conversations with the people around me.”
Donovan passed away the same year that Norm was born, but his legacy lives on through the OSS Society and family stories.
“Growing up, my grandmother was taught not to say his name,” Flint said about being related someone in the CIA. “But now, since it’s been more than 50 years, we can talk about it.”
The Flints plan to attend the banquet again next year. Melanie says the experience was incredible and a little strange.
“It’s an odd thing to have people applaud you for your heritage,” she said.