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Benson House's wartime role as LI espionage post remembered

Vicki Jean Johnson's parents never told her they came to Wading River to help fight the Nazis.

The retired middle-school teacher knew her father, Donworth Drew Johnson, had been on the trail of America's most wanted during his dozen years in the FBI.

But it was a phone call earlier this year that revealed to her that her home of three years overlooking Long Island Sound had been a secret U.S. espionage post that sent false information to Germany about the impending D-Day invasion and other military matters.

"He taught me to be truthful, and he was lying back and forth to the Germans," Johnson said with a chuckle. "He must have been good at it, but it was for a good reason."

One day after the 70th anniversary of the Normandy invasion, Johnson, who now lives in Selma, Texas, joined about 100 people yesterday in honoring the wartime role of Benson House. A plaque was erected by the FBI's Society of Former Special Agents.

The house, now part of the Episcopal diocese's Camp DeWolfe, was home to FBI agents and radio technicians who, posing as German spies, broadcast false intelligence to Germany from January 1942 to June 1945.

Raymond Batvinis, chairman of the society's historical committee and author of the book "Hoover's Secret War Against Axis Spies," tracked down Johnson. Over the phone, he revealed what her father really did during the war.

"She was never told much," Batvinis said. "Her father went to his grave with his secret on his lips."

Johnson, 73, has no recollection of the house but photos of her as a toddler in the house with her mother hung on its walls yesterday. She said she was "proud, absolutely," of her father's spy work.

Kathryn Curran, director of the Suffolk County Historical Society, which helped organize the event, said it shows how Wading River contributed to "the history of the world."

Dave Nadel, 92, of East Meadow, an Army communications technician during D-Day, said he knew nothing of the Benson House operation during the war.

"They did a good job in hiding this," he said at the ceremony. "Everyone played a little piece, and nobody knew what everyone else was doing."

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