Much to David Rockefeller’s surprise, his mother, a pacifist, told him that the United States had to be involved in World War II to protect “our way of life, and that men who were eligible ought to do their duty by enlisting.” After discussing with his wife what he called an “unsettling conversation” with his mother, Rockefeller enlisted as a private in March 1942, even though his father probably could have gotten him a commission as an officer if he had asked.
His work consisted of guard duty and delivering messages. After several months, he asked if he could apply to the Engineer Officers Candidate School, was accepted, and in March 1943, was commissioned as a second lieutenant and assigned to an intelligence unit.
Rockefeller, well traveled in Europe, was fluent in French. He was assigned to Algiers, where the fighting had ended. But what was of interest to U.S. intelligence was who would control France’s Committee on National Liberation. Rockefeller asked his commanding officer if he could report on the “political activities and economic conditions in the region.” Although he was only a second lieutenant, “[he] spoke French and understood the political and economic situation better than most.” And he had letters of introduction to a number of influential people.
Rockefeller’s commanding officer allowed him “to make forays – about ten thousand miles of it in a jeep – throughout Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, as well as a two-week trip to Cairo and Istanbul to deepen [his] contacts with French intelligence officials.”
Just before the invasion of southern France in 1944, Rockefeller helped gather intelligence about the political situation, state of the economy and the threat by foreign troops or “indigenous radicals” in an area that stretched from west of the Rhone to south of the Loire river. In February 1945, Rockefeller was promoted to captain and appointed an assistant military attaché in Paris.
After the Germans surrendered in May 1945, Rockefeller was sent on a number of missions, including trips to Frankfurt and Munich.
In early October, Rockefeller returned to the United States. “Peggy and I were overjoyed to be together again,” he wrote. “It is difficult to describe my emotions when I saw my three children, David, Abby and Neva.”