Paducah man receives medal for relative's classified service

U.S. Rep. James Comer (left) presents a Congressional Gold Medal award to James Bain in honor of James Otis Mellotte. Mellotte, Bain's great-uncle, died during a training exercise in World War II while serving under the Office of Strategic Services.

DAVE THOMPSON | The Sun

Growing up, James Bain never heard much about his great-uncle's military service. His grandmother and other relatives sometimes spoke of him, but details were scarce.

Sgt. James Otis Mellotte died during his service in 1945 -- five years before Bain's birth.

While in the U.S. Air Force, Mellotte served under the command of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), a short-lived military intelligence agency formed during World War II, and a predecessor to the CIA.

In December 2016, Congress collectively awarded OSS veterans the Congressional Gold Medal, and on Wednesday, U.S. Rep. James Comer presented Bain with a Congressional Gold Medal in honor of Mellotte's service.

"It's an honor," said Bain, a lifelong Paducah resident who served a few stints in the National Guard.

"For years I just knew he was in the Army Air Force."

Bain said he's been researching Mellotte for a few decades -- the government has been declassifying OSS documents in batches since the 1980s -- but specific information about Mellotte's service didn't come until more recently.

"All the information was a closed book until 10, maybe 15 years ago," he said.

Mellotte served in "Operation Carpetbagger," which performed aerial missions including delivery of weapons and other material to European resistance fighters.

His plane crashed near Lyon, France, in February 1945 after an engine failure while trying to land in foggy conditions, according to records.

Comer said he was honored to be involved in passing the bill that allowed previously unrecognized veterans to be honored.

He said the government is "very committed to recognizing our veterans and the families of the veterans who gave their lives for our country."

Comer has been involved in various recognitions before, but he said Wednesday was the first time he's been able to award the Congressional Gold Medal.

Comer said he's unaware of others in the area linked to OSS service, but he said his office is working with various local families on getting other awards in order.

"We want veterans to know that we're gonna never forget the sacrifice," he said, adding there's a priority to recognize World War II, Korea and Vietnam veterans at or near the ends of their lives.

"There's a sense of urgency in Congress to try to recognize those that didn't get the recognition they deserved when they came home."

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