Grammy-winning producer, playwright, and actor Eugene Polinsky flew clandestine missions over Nazi-occupied Belgium, France, and Norway during the war. Instead of unleashing bombs, his eight-man American crew dropped Allied agents, weapons, motorbikes, cash, and other vital supplies to resistance fighters as part of a mission called Operation Carpetbagger. “I didn’t know what I was doing then,” says Polinsky, now 99. “I didn’t know what I was carrying. I would have been terrified!”
The Carpetbaggers were the air arm of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the U.S. intelligence agency that ran espionage and sabotage operations. Between 1944 and 1945 the Carpetbaggers dropped more than 500 agents and some 5,000 tons of supplies into hostile territory. They flew late and low, so low that the planes’ bellies snagged tree branches. “They told us, ‘If you’re shot down, if they capture you, you’ll be shot as a spy,’ ” Polinsky says. “ ‘So don’t get shot down.’ Great advice.”
Born in Manhattan on September 11, 1920, Polinsky was the son of Russian Jewish immigrants. When he arrived in England for duty with the Eighth Air Force, his crew was assigned to stripped-down B-24 Liberators, painted black to blend into the night. Hours before a mission, the ground crew loaded supply containers into the plane’s bomb bay. Just before takeoff, agents known to the airmen only as “Joes” and “Josephines” sometimes slipped aboard.