George Wickes Earns Congressional Honor

Beloved Professor Emeritus is awarded the Congressional Gold Medal

The Eugene Register-Guard reports that Professor Emeritus George Wickes has earned the Congressional Gold Medal, one of the two highest civilian awards bestowed by the U.S. government.

Wickes, 94, received the honor on March 20, 2019, in recognition of his cryptographical work with the Office of Strategic Service - a precursor to the CIA - during World War II and the Vietnam War.

According to the Register-Guard, U.S. Representative Peter DeFazio, who hosted the ceremony and bestowed the honor, remarked that Wickes' service came "at a crucial turning point for the U.S. and the world."

Wickes' intelligence work was truly extraordinary, the stuff of spy novels. Born to a Belgian mother, Wickes' first language was French. During WWII, his critical acumen and facility with the language were deemed advantageous. The Army promptly recruited him, training him in Vietnamese and, later, cryptography. His unique lingusitic abilities soon caught the attention of the OSS, which dispatched Wickes to Southeast Asia, first to encode and decode messages but ultimately to collect intelligence as well. Wickes was even asked to interview Ho Chi Minh.


While this honor is extraordinary, it is not the first time that Professor Wickes' service has been publicly recognized. Wickes made crucial contributions, including appearances in the opening scenes, to Ken Burns and Lynn Novick's The Vietnam War, an 18-hour documentary that premiered on PBS in September 2017.

Professor Wickes joined UO English in the early 1960s, after vibrant teaching experiences at Duke University and Claremont's Harvey Mudd College, where he was a founding faculty member. Wickes officially retired in 1993 but, tireless and ever-engaged, continued to teach courses in American and British modernism until 2015. 

To learn more about Professor Wickes' remarkable life, read Laurie Notaro's Oregon Quarterly feature, "The Spy Who Taught Me."  

For a complete account of the ceremony, please visit the Register-Guard article, written by Miles Jay Oliver, and the Around the O feature by Jess Brown