In what will likely go down as one of history’s mysteries, the CIA Museum in McLean, Va., has obtained a letter from former intelligence operative Richard Helms written in 1945 on Hitler’s stationery. Helms’ son, Dennis Helms, had received the letter when he was three years old and gave it to the museum this year.
“Dennis doesn’t know exactly how he came to have [the stationery],” said museum curator Toni Hiley. “And we don’t have any information in any of the publications on Helms where he’s referenced [to know] exactly how he obtained it.”
In the brief note, dated “V-E day,” meaning May 8, 1945, OSS operative Richard Helms tells his young son:
“The man who might have written on this card once controlled Europe – three short years ago when you were born. Today he is dead, his memory despised, his country in ruins. He had a thirst for power, a low opinion of man as an individual, and a fear of intellectual honesty. He was a force for evil in the world. His passing, his defeat – a boon to mankind. But thousands died that it might be so. The price for ridding society of bad is always high. Love, Daddy.”
When the museum received the letter from Dennis Helms on the Monday following Osama bin Laden’s assassination, Hiley said the staff was “stunned.”
“It seemed like he could have been writing it about bin Laden,” she said. “It seemed like there was no time between the two. Like 66 years had just evaporated.”
Aside from the timing, the letter itself — with its heartfelt message from father to son — was equally unique. “I was just struck that he would have a sense or sweep of history. From his perspective in 1945 as a young intelligence officer, he couldn’t have known he would be director of the CIA, he couldn’t have known that there would be another evil that intelligence would address 66 years later,” said Hiley. “It’s almost prescient that he would have a sense of his own perspective in history to create a historical artifact for his 3-year-old son.”
The museum, which is not open to the public, added the letter to their exhibit about the CIA’s precursor, the Office of Strategic Services.
Richard Helms joined the OSS in 1943, and stayed until it was disbanded in October of 1945. Eventually, he would become director of the CIA, a post he held from 1966 until 1973 when Nixon pushed him out and he became the United States Ambassador to Iran. In the years following his departure from the CIA, he was questioned about the Castro assassination plots and the CIA’s role in overthrowing Chile’s government, for which he was eventually convicted of perjury.
His letter is now displayed alongside a dinner plate from Hitler’s chancellery obtained from Richard Helms’ widow, Cynthia Helms. ”In September 1945 he was in Berlin and had an opportunity to go to Hitler’s bunker,” said Hiley of the museum’s third artifact from Helms’ career — the first being a telegram obtained from his personnel file.
Dennis Helms told the Washington Post he and his father corresponded often by mail, but it was the sign-off in that initial letter, “Love, Daddy” that has always stayed with him.
“This letter was an opportunity to say what was on his mind,” Dennis Helms, 69, told the Washington Post. “I just wish there had been more such occasions.”