A 98-year-old who escaped Nazi Germany as a Jewish teenager during World War II -- and became part of the United States' first spy agency -- was recognized with a Congressional Gold Medal Thursday at his home in South San Francisco. It is Congress' highest civilian honor.
Bernd Stevens, born Bernd Steinitz, left Germany in 1939. Then, four years later, he returned in an American uniform under the command of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the predecessor to the CIA.
As one of the first members of the OSS, he was twice captured and escaped from the Nazis, conducting espionage as a paratrooper behind enemy lines. He has already received the Purple Heart and Bronze Star, and now he's adding the OSS Congressional Gold Medal to his list.
"Bernd Stevens personifies the courage and heroism that allowed the United States to defeat the Nazis and end World War II," said congresswoman Jackie Speier in a statement. She presented him with the medal Thursday morning in front of about two dozen residents and workers at the Damenik's Home assisted living facility.
Stevens read from a brief speech accepting the award on behalf of those who didn't make it. He particularly wanted to honor his father, who he called his icon. After his father helped Stevens escape as a kid, he said, his dad was then picked up and killed the next day.