Peter J. Ortiz

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Pierre (Peter) Julien Ortiz
Peter Ortiz.jpg  Navycross.jpg
Colonel Peter Julien Ortiz, Navy Cross recipient
Born (1913-07-05)July 5, 1913
New York City
Died May 16, 1988(1988-05-16) (aged 74)
Allegiance United StatesUnited States of America
France France
Service/branch United States Marine Corps
French Foreign Legion
Rank Colonel, USMC
Acting Lieutenant, FFL
Battles/wars World War II
Awards Navy Cross (×2)
Purple Heart (×2)
Legion of Merit
Order of the British Empire
Croix de Guerre (×5)
Médaille des Blesses
Médaille des Évadés
Médaille Coloniale

Colonel Pierre (Peter) Julien Ortiz OBE (July 5, 1913 - May 16, 1988) was one of the most decorated Marine officers of World War II. He served in both Africa and Europe throughout the war, as a member of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS).

Military career[edit]

Although born in New York City[1] to a Spanish-American mother[2] and French-American[3] father, Ortiz was educated at the University of Grenoble in France.[3] He spoke ten languages including French, German and Arabic.[2]

On February 1, 1932, at the age of 19, he joined the French Foreign Legion for five years' service in North Africa.[2][3][4][5] He was sent first to the Legion's training camp at Sidi Bel-Abbes, Algeria. He later served in Morocco, where he was promoted to corporal in 1933 and sergeant in 1935. He was awarded the Croix de Guerre twice during a campaign against the Rif.[3] He also received the Medaille Militaire.[5] An acting lieutenant, he was offered a commission as a second lieutenant if he would re-enlist.[5] Instead, when his contract expired in 1937, he went to Hollywood to serve as a technical adviser for war films.[3]

With the outbreak of World War II and the United States still neutral, he re-enlisted in the Legion in October 1939 as a sergeant, and received a battlefield commission in May 1940.[5] He was wounded while blowing up a fuel dump[5] and captured by the Germans during the 1940 Battle of France.[3] He escaped the following year via Lisbon and made his way to the United States.[5]

He joined the Marines on June 22, 1942.[5] As a result of his training and experience, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant after only 40 days.[1][3] He was promoted to captain on December 3.[5] With his knowledge of the region, sent to Tangier, Morocco.[4] He conducted reconnaissance behind enemy lines in Tunisia for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS).[3][5] During a night mission, Ortiz was seriously wounded in the right hand in an encounter with a German patrol and was sent back to the United States to recover.[5]

In 1943, Ortiz became a member of the OSS. On January 6, 1944, he was dropped by parachute into the Haute-Savoie region of German-occupied France as part of the three-man "Union" mission with Colonel Pierre Fourcaud of the French secret service and Captain Thackwaite from the SIS[clarification needed] to evaluate the capabilities of the Resistance in the Alpine region.[3][5] He drove four downed RAF pilots to the border of neutral Spain[3] before leaving France with his team in late May.

Promoted to major, Ortiz parachuted back into France on August 1, 1944, this time as the commander of the "Union II" mission.[3][5] He was captured by the Germans on August 16. In April 1945, he and three other prisoners of war escaped while being moved to another camp, but after ten days with little or no food, returned to their old camp after discovering that the prisoners had virtually taken control.[5] On April 29, the camp was liberated.

He rose to the rank of colonel in the Marine Reserve.[5] In April 1954, he volunteered to return to active duty to serve as a Marine observer in Indochina. The Marine Corps did not accept his request because "current military policies will not permit the assignment requested."[5]

Later years[edit]

Upon returning to civilian life, Ortiz became an actor.[6] Ortiz appeared in a number of films, several with director John Ford, including Rio Grande, in which he played "Captain St. Jacques". According to his son, Marine Lieutenant Colonel Peter J. Ortiz, Jr., "My father was an awful actor but he had great fun appearing in movies".[3] At least two Hollywood films were based upon his personal exploits, 13 Rue Madeleine (1947) and Operation Secret (1952).[1]

Ortiz died of cancer on May 16, 1988, at the age of 74, and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. He was survived by his wife Jean and their son Peter J. Ortiz, Jr.[7]

Awards and honors[edit]

Ortiz was the most highly decorated member of the OSS.[3] His 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 Légion d'honneur by the French.[5]

In August 1994, Centron, France held a ceremony in which the town center was renamed "Place Colonel Peter Ortiz".[7]

Navy Cross citations[edit]

(First Award)
Rank and organization:Major, U.S. Marine Corps (Reserve)
Place:Office of Strategic Services (London)
Date of Action:January 8–20, 1944
The Navy Cross is presented to Pierre (Peter) J. Ortiz, Major, U.S. Marine Corps (Reserve), for extraordinary heroism while attached to the United States Naval Command, Office of Strategic Services, London, England, in connection with military operations against an armed enemy in enemy-occupied territory, from January 8, to May 20, 1944. Operating in civilian clothes and aware that he would be subject to execution in the event of his capture, Major Ortiz parachuted from an airplane with two other officers of an Inter-Allied mission to reorganize existing Maquis groups in the region of Rhone. By his tact, resourcefulness and leadership, he was largely instrumental in affecting the acceptance of the mission by local resistance leaders, and also in organizing parachute operations for the delivery of arms, ammunition and equipment for use by the Maquis in his region. Although his identity had become known to the Gestapo with the resultant increase in personal hazard, he voluntarily conducted to the Spanish border four Royal Air Force officers who had been shot down in his region, and later returned to resume his duties. Repeatedly leading successful raids during the period of this assignment, Major Ortiz inflicted heavy casualties on enemy forces greatly superior in number, with small losses to his own forces. By his heroic leadership and astuteness in planning and executing these hazardous forays, Major Ortiz served as an inspiration to his subordinates and upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.[8]
(Second Award)
Rank and organization:Major, U.S. Marine Corps (Reserve)
Place:Office of Strategic Services (France)
Date of Action:August 1, 1944 - April 27, 1945
The Navy Cross is presented to Pierre (Peter) J. Ortiz, Major, U.S. Marine Corps (Reserve), for extraordinary heroism while serving with the Office of Strategic Services during operations behind enemy Axis lines in the Savoie Department of France, from August 1, 1944, to April 27, 1945. After parachuting into a region where his activities had made him an object of intensive search by the Gestapo, Major Ortiz valiantly continued his work in coordinating and leading resistance groups in that section. When he and his team were attacked and surrounded during a special mission designed to immobilize enemy reinforcements stationed in that area, he disregarded the possibility of escape and, in an effort to spare villagers severe reprisals by the Gestapo, surrendered to this sadistic Geheim Staats Polizei. Subsequently imprisoned and subjected to numerous interrogations, he divulged nothing, and the story of this intrepid Marine Major and his team became a brilliant legend in that section of France where acts of bravery were considered commonplace. By his outstanding loyalty and self-sacrificing devotion to duty, Major Ortiz contributed materially to the success of operations against a relentless enemy, and upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Harris, LCpl Benjamin (March 24, 2010). "The Unknown Legend". Marines magazine. United States Marine Corps. Retrieved 3 May 2010. 
  2. ^ a b c "Hollywood Stars and Their Service in the Marine Corps". Humanities and Social Sciences Net Online. November 1999. Retrieved October 3, 2010. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "A Not So Quiet American". Terre Information Magazine (official monthly publication of the French Army). November 1999. Retrieved October 3, 2010. [dead link]
  4. ^ a b Lieutenant Colonel Harry W. Edwards. "A Different War: Marines in Europe and North Africa". USMC Training and Education Command. Retrieved October 3, 2010. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Benis Frank. "Colonel Peter Julien Ortiz: OSS Marine, Actor, Californian". California State Military Museum. Retrieved April 21, 2014. 
  6. ^ Wise, James E.; and Anne Collier Rehill (1999). "Peter J. Ortiz". Stars in the Corps: Movie Actors in the United States Marines (2nd Edition ed.). Naval Institute Press. pp. 53–66. ISBN 978-1-55750-949-9. Retrieved 21 March 2009. 
  7. ^ a b "Yearly Chronologies of the United States Marine Corps - 1994". USMC Training and Education Command. Retrieved October 3, 2010. 
  8. ^ a b Navy Cross Citations USMC - World War II at the Wayback Machine (archived January 19, 2008) (archived from the original on 2008-01-19).

External links[edit]