Peter J. Ortiz
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Peter J. Ortiz
Pierre (Peter) Julien Ortiz
Peter Ortiz.jpg
Colonel Peter J. Ortiz, U.S. Marine Corps
Born(1913-07-05)July 5, 1913
New York City, US
DiedMay 16, 1988(1988-05-16) (aged 74)
Prescott, Arizona, US
Place of burial
AllegianceUnited States United States
France France
Service/branch U.S. Marine Corps
Flag of legion.svg French Foreign Legion
RankUS-O6 insignia.svg Colonel, USMCR
Acting Lieutenant, FFL
Battles/warsFrench conquest of Morocco
World War II
AwardsNavy Cross ribbon.svg Navy Cross (2)
Legion of Merit ribbon.svg Legion of Merit w/ Combat "V"
Purple Heart ribbon.svg Purple Heart (2)
American Campaign Medal ribbon.svg American Campaign Medal
European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign ribbon.svg EAME Campaign Medal (3)
World War II Victory Medal ribbon.svg World War II Victory Medal
Armed Forces Reserve Medal ribbon.svg Armed Forces Reserve Medal
British Order of the British Empire
French Légion d'Honneur
French Médaille militaire
French Croix de Guerre (5)
French Médaille des Évadés
French Croix du Combattant
French Médaille Coloniale
French Médaille des Blesses
Order of Ouissam Alaouite
Spouse(s)Jean M. Ortiz
ChildrenPeter J. Ortiz Jr.

Pierre (Peter) Julien Ortiz OBE (July 5, 1913 - May 16, 1988) was a United States Marine Corps colonel who received two Navy Crosses for extraordinary heroism as a major in World War II. He served in both North Africa and Europe throughout the war, as a member of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), operating behind enemy lines several times. He acted in Hollywood films after the war. He was one of very few U.S. Marines to go into combat in Europe during World War II, and one of the most decorated Marine officers of the war.[1]

Early life

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

French Foreign Legion

On February 1, 1932, at the age of 19, he joined the French Foreign Legion for five years' service in North Africa.[3][4][5][6] He was sent 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.[4] He also received the Médaille militaire.[6] As an acting lieutenant, he was offered a commission as a second lieutenant if he would re-enlist.[6] Instead, when his contract expired in 1937 he went back to the United States to serve as a technical adviser for war films in Hollywood.[4]

World War II

With the outbreak of World War II and the United States still neutral, he re-enlisted in the Foreign Legion in October 1939 as a sergeant, and received a battlefield commission in May 1940.[6] He was wounded while blowing up a fuel dump[6] and captured by the Germans during the 1940 Battle of France.[4] He escaped the following year via Lisbon and made his way to the United States.[6]

He enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps on June 22, 1942.[6] As a result of his training and experience, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant after only 40 days in service.[4][7] He was promoted to captain on December 3.[6] With his knowledge of the region, he was sent to Tangier, Morocco.[5] He conducted reconnaissance behind enemy lines in Tunisia for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS).[4][6] At the time, though most of Morocco was a French protectorate, Tangiers was a protectorate of neutral Spain. 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.[6]

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 British Special Operations Executive, to evaluate the capabilities of the Resistance and train the Maquis du Vercors in the Alpine region.[4][6] He drove four downed RAF pilots to the border of neutral Spain,[4] 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.[4][6] 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.[6] On April 29, the camp was liberated.

He rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve. He was released from active duty in 1946 and returned to Hollywood. 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." On March 1, 1955, he retired from the Marine Corps and was promoted the rank of colonel on the retirement list because he was decorated in combat.[6]

In all, Colonel Ortiz was awarded 24 medals from 3 countries.

Navy Cross citations

(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]


Upon returning to civilian life, Ortiz became an actor.[9] 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".[4] He was technical advisor to 13 Rue Madeleine (1947) and the film Operation Secret (1952). was based on his World War II exploits.[10]

Ortiz had no control over the script of the film, in which he was portrayed by Cornel Wilde, and "wasn't too happy with the result." Ortiz told columnist Bob Thomas that "they had stipulated that I was to help in the screen play but never consulted me." [10]

Ortiz's acting career foundered during the 1950s, and in 1955 he advertised for work in movie trade publications. Ortiz was living in a small tract house in Tarzana, California with his wife and 19-month-old son. He told Aline Mosby of United Press International that a movie producer had promised to promote his career when he appeared on the radio program This Is Your Life in 1951, but that promised opportunities in film had not materialized and that he had only obtained work as an extra. His ad said that he was "willing and able to do anything.".[11]


Ortiz died of cancer on May 16, 1988, at the age of 74, and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, Plot: Section 59 Site 1269. He was survived by his wife Jean and their son Peter J. Ortiz Jr.[12]

In August 1994, the village of Montgirod, in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region of France, renamed its town hall square the "Place du Colonel Peter Ortiz".[12][13]

Military decorations

Ortiz was the most highly decorated member of the OSS.[4] His decorations and medals include:

United States

United Kingdom




Year Title Role Notes
1949 She Wore a Yellow Ribbon Gunrunner Uncredited
1949 Task Force Pilot Uncredited
1949 Twelve O'Clock High Weather Observer Uncredited
1950 When Willie Comes Marching Home Pierre - French Resistance Fighter Uncredited
1950 Chain Lightning Young Captain Uncredited
1950 The Capture Employee Uncredited
1950 Abbott and Costello in the Foreign Legion Corporal Uncredited
1950 Rio Grande Capt. St. Jacques
1950 The Du Pont Story Charles I. du Pont
1951 Sirocco Maj. Robbinet Uncredited
1951 Flying Leathernecks Captain Uncredited
1951 I'll See You in My Dreams Soldier Uncredited
1952 Retreat, Hell! Maj. Knox
1952 What Price Glory French General Uncredited
1952 Blackbeard the Pirate Pirate Uncredited
1953 San Antone Rider Uncredited
1953 The Desert Rats Wireman Uncredited
1953 Devil's Canyon Guard Uncredited
1954 Jubilee Trail Horseman Uncredited
1954 Hell and High Water Crewman Uncredited
1954 King Richard and the Crusaders Castelaine
1955 Son of Sinbad Cutthroat Uncredited
1955 A Lawless Street Hiram Hayes Uncredited
1956 7th Cavalry Pollock
1957 The Halliday Brand Manuel
1957 The Wings of Eagles Lt. Charles Dexter Uncredited, (final film role)

See also


  1. ^ "A Different War: Marines in Europe and North Africa (Assignment to London)". Retrieved .
  2. ^ Lacey, Laura Homan (2014). "As a Young Man and Legionnaire". ORTIZ: To Live a Man's Life (2nd ed.). Phillips Publications. pp. 7-11. ISBN 978-0-9849605-1-4.
  3. ^ a b "Hollywood Stars and Their Service in the Marine Corps". Humanities and Social Sciences Net Online. November 1999. Retrieved 2010.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "A Not So Quiet American". Terre Information Magazine (official monthly publication of the French Army). November 1999. Archived from the original on 2011-05-31. Retrieved 2010.
  5. ^ a b Lieutenant Colonel Harry W. Edwards. "A Different War: Marines in Europe and North Africa" (PDF). USMC Training and Education Command. Archived from the original (PDF) on June 15, 2011. Retrieved 2010.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Benis Frank. "Colonel Peter Julien Ortiz: OSS Marine, Actor, Californian". California State Military Museum. Retrieved 2014.
  7. ^ Harris, LCpl Benjamin (March 24, 2010). "The Unknown Legend". Marines magazine. United States Marine Corps. Retrieved 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).
  9. ^ Wise, James E.; Anne Collier Rehill (1999). "Peter J. Ortiz". Stars in the Corps: Movie Actors in the United States Marines (2nd ed.). Naval Institute Press. pp. 53-66. ISBN 978-1-55750-949-9. Retrieved 2009.
  10. ^ a b Thomas, Bob (20 April 1953). "Peter Ortiz One Actor Whose Life Reads Like Motion Picture Thriller". Newport Daily News. Associated Press. p. 11. Retrieved 2020 – via
  11. ^ Mosby, Aline (9 January 1955). "Success as a Soldier, Obscurity as an Actor". The Press Democrat. Santa Rosa, Calif. p. 2. Retrieved 2020 – via
  12. ^ a b "Yearly Chronologies of the United States Marine Corps - 1994". USMC Training and Education Command. Retrieved 2010.
  13. ^ "Place du Colonel Peter Ortiz, 73210 Montgirod, France". Retrieved 2019.

External links

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



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