of the most decorated Marine officers of World War II, Colonel Peter Ortiz
served in both Africa and Europe througout the war, as a member of the
Office of Strategic Services (OSS).
born in the U.S., he was educated in France and began his military service
in 1932 at the age of 19 with the French Foreign Legion. He was wounded
in action and imprisoned by the Germans in 1940. After his escape, he made
his way to the U.S. and joined the Marines. As a result of his training
and experience, he was awarded a commission, and a special duty assignment
as an assistant naval attache in Tangier, Morocco. Once again, Ortiz was
wounded while perfoming combat intelligence work in preparation for Allied
landings in North Africa.
1943, as a member of the OSS, he was dropped by parachute into France to
aid the Resistance, and assisted in the rescue of four downed RAF pilots.
He was recaptured by the Germans in 1944 and spent the remainder of the
war as a POW.
decorations included two Navy Crosses, the Legion of Merit, the Order of
the British Empire, and five Croix de Guerre. He also was made a Chevalier
of the Legion of Honor by the French. Upon return to civilian life, Ortiz
became involved in the film industry. At the same time, at least two Hollywood
films were made based upon his personal exploits. He died on 16 May 1988
at the age of 75."
Different War: Marines In Europe And North Africa, Marines In WWII Commemorative
Series, By LtCol Harry W. Edwards (Ret)
are numerous detailed accounts of the background and exploits of Ortiz
in various publications; I will list those of which I am aware at the end
of this article. He had been born in New York City and educated in France
where he left school before graduation to join the Legion. He was
said to be the youngest sergeant in the history of the French Foreign Legion.
He was wounded in action between the Legion and Germans in 1940, then imprisoned
in a concentration camp in Austria.
escaping, making his way to the U.S. and joining the Marine Corps in June
1942, he was commissioned in August 1942, commissioned a captain in the
Marine Corps Reseve in December 1942, and assigned to North Africa
as an assistant naval attache where he organized a patrol of Arab tribesmen
to scout German forces on the Tunisian front. He was asigned to the OSS
after recovering from wounds suffered in Tunisia.
Ortiz had reported back to HQMC in April of 1943, and the following month
joined the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), a secretive organization
and predecessor to the CIA. He was a graduate of both the Legion's and
Marine Corps' parachute schools. Having lived in France he was fluent
in that language; he also spoke nine other languages and was fluent in
five. He parachuted into France on January 6, 1944, assigned to help organize
and lead elements of the French underground forces known as the "Marquis."
Leatherneck magazine of January 1991, indicates that:
the course of his duties he began frequenting a nightclub in Lyons that
catered to German officers. This enabled Ortiz to gain much information
regarding German activities in the area, which he turned to good use against
the Germans. This Marine had worn his Marine uniform when leading
Marquis groups in raids. To have an Allied officer leading them bolstered
their morale immensely, especially when the uniform bore such impressive
night, while Ortiz sat with the German officers at the club in Lyons, an
enemy soldier damned President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He then damned
the United States of America. And then, for whatever reason, he damned
the United States Marine Corps (Ortiz later wrote that he "could not, for
the life of me, figure why a German officer would so dislike American Marines
when, chances were, he'd never met one.")
Ortiz was bored. Perhaps he......he excused himself from the table and
returned to his apartment where....changed into the uniform of a U.S. Marine....he
then shrugged into a raincoat and returned to the club....he ordered a
round of drinks...refreshments were served.... removed his raincoat and
stood brandishing his pistol.
toast, he said, beaming, respendent in full greens and decorations, "to
the President of the United States!" As the pistol moved from German officer
to German officer, they emptied their glasses.
ordered another round of drinks and then offered a toast to the United
States Marine Corps!
the Germans had drained their glasses, the Marine backed out, pistol levelled
at his astonished hosts. He disappeared into the rainy, black night.
train approached. The explosive device was detonated....the Marqis opened
up....Grenades were tossed. Ortiz waited for the firing to subside, then
stood in full view in his Marine Corps uniform and ordered the Marquis
to withdraw....leaving 47 Germans dead and many others wounded. Not a Marquis
adventures were numerous..."
After the war, Colonel Ortiz
worked with director John Ford, a former member of the OSS himself.. Two
movies were produced depicting the exploits of Ortiz. They were, "13 Rue
Madeleine," with James Cagney, etc., and "Operation Secret," with Cornel
also had small parts in such films as, "The Outcast," "Wings of Eagles,"
and "Rio Grande." He also played the part of Major Knott in the film, "Retreat
Hell," a movie about the Marines at the Chosin Resevoir in 1950.
Colonel Peter Ortiz was laid to rest at Arlington National cemetery
on May 23, 1988. Prior to burial, the procession was led by the Marine
Band in full dress, playing hymns - then a Marine rifle company in full
dress, with fixed bayonets - six white horses pulling a caisson with
the flag draped coffin and the beautiful black riderless horse with the
Navy commander chaplain conducted a short service.
the U.S. Marine Corps was General Frank Breth, Director of Intelligence;
representing France was Colonel Guy Hussenot; representing England was
Captain Jeremy Robbins, of the British Royal Marines...