The conscientious objector story is still tripping me up, so I wrote to the U.S. Army Center of Military History (CMH) asking about the Conscientious Objector (CO) that my grandfather met in France around the time of Operation Dragoon (August 15, 1944) which was the secondary landing of the Allies in southern France. Did they know if any COs ever learned to be paratroopers and radio operators?
COs regularly did go behind enemy lines unarmed, but usually as chaplains or medics and also typically as part of big groups that could afford to have unarmed people in their party. Small commando groups like the one my grandfather described wouldn't have had the luxury of including an unarmed person without a really good reason.
So the first thing I thought of was giving the man another duty - perhaps he was the radio operator and a medic. But what else? What other specialized skills might he have had that would explain allowing a CO to go along on such a trip? He apparently didn't speak French - I think my grandfather would have mentioned it if so - and my grandfather specifically mentioned how difficult it was for him to understand the guy's American-accented English. Maybe he had electronics knowledge or something?
Anyway, I got a response from the CMH yesterday. Here's one military historian's thoughts on the matter:
Hmm, dubious but remotely possible. This unit sounds a lot like one of the Operational Groups (OG), from the Office of Strategic Services. There are indications that the OSS allowed conscientious objectors although I doubt they could have been in a small combat unit like the OG’s.
Possible the USASOC history office might have more details on OG’s in France and their recruitment/personnel. Even though OG’s were technically not part of the Army, they drew heavily on Army personnel. Conscientious objectors were given noncombatant roles in the Army during WWII—see “Hacksaw Ridge.” Whether that included medics for a small group behind enemy lines is less certain.
The CMH librarian also included about 20 additional email addresses I could use to ask further questions, so hopefully there's more info to come.
In the end, I may just have to accept that the American was simply exceptional and while hard to believe, was real.