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World War II spy Martin Gelb dies at 101 – to be buried in NH with honors

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen presents Captain Martin Gelb with the Congressional Gold Medal in June 2018 for his service to our country during World War II. (Sen. Shaheen/Released)
September 01, 2021

Martin Gelb was on the Nazis’ most wanted list.

That’s because this New Hampshire Army veteran was really good at his job as a spy during World War II. Gelb died Monday, just three weeks shy of his 102nd birthday.

“He was a very humble, ordinary man who led an extraordinary life,” his daughter Nancy Gelb-Sag told the Herald on Tuesday.

His graveside service will be Thursday at the New Hampshire State Veterans Cemetery in Boscawen, near Concord. As his obituary reads, he was recruited into the OSS (Office of Strategic Services, forerunner of the CIA) and helped with D-Day and more.

Martin Gelb (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs/Released)

The Herald was working with Martin and his family to search the national archives to help chronicle his missions. The archives in Maryland, however, have remained closed to the public for well over a year during the pandemic.

Still, Martin Gelb told amazing stories.

He was a Jew fighting against the perpetrators of the Holocaust, and he was driven to succeed. His bravery remained top secret until records from the OSS were declassified in 2008. He was recently awarded the OSS Congressional Gold Medal for his service.

“I had talent that they needed and I didn’t take any crap,” he told the Herald in late 2019. He was an expert radio operator who knew Morse code and International Morse code who slipped into France and Germany along with the D-Day invasion.

“I was asked to do a lot of strange things, but you follow orders. It did get a little crazy,” he said.

One of those missions was liberating the Buchenwald concentration camp — Germany’s first and one of the largest. “I shot my Tommy gun in the air,” Gelb said when asked about that day. The experience was so traumatizing, he couldn’t share much more.

But he did tell stories of helping the French underground, protecting female agents from Paris, trying to capture a German engineer only to lose him to the Russians and helping set up the OSS office at the Nuremberg trials.

“You made me out to be bigger than I was,” he said a week after a Herald cover story about him.

“I bet I didn’t,” this reporter responded.


(c) 2021 the Boston Herald

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