Peter J. Ortiz

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 Marines to go into combat in Europe during World War II.

Pierre (Peter) Julien Ortiz
Colonel Peter J. Ortiz, U.S. Marine Corps
Born(1913-07-05)July 5, 1913
New York City
DiedMay 16, 1988(1988-05-16) (aged 74)
Allegiance United States
Service/branchUnited States Marine Corps
French Foreign Legion
RankColonel, USMCR
Acting Lieutenant, FFL
Battles/warsFrench conquest of Morocco
World War II
AwardsNavy Cross (2)
Legion of Merit w/ Combat "V"
Purple Heart Medal (2)
American Campaign Medal
EAME Campaign Medal (3)
World War II Victory Medal
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

Early life

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

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.[2][3][4][5] 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.[3] He also received the Médaille militaire.[5] As 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 back to the United States to serve as a technical adviser for war films in Hollywood.[3]

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.[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 enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps on June 22, 1942.[5] As a result of his training and experience, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant after only 40 days in service.[3][6] He was promoted to captain on December 3.[5] With his knowledge of the region, he was sent to Tangier, Morocco.[4] He conducted reconnaissance behind enemy lines in Tunisia for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS).[3][5] 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.[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 British Special Operations Executive, 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 lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve. He was released from active duty in 1946 and returned to Hollywood. 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.[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]

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

(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.[7]

(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.[7]


Upon returning to civilian life, Ortiz became an actor.[8] 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).[6]


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.[9]

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".[9][10]

Military decorations

Ortiz was the most highly decorated member of the OSS.[3] His decorations and medals include:

United States

United Kingdom




Year Title Role Notes
1949She Wore a Yellow RibbonGunrunnerUncredited
1949Task ForcePilotUncredited
1949Twelve O'Clock HighWeather ObserverUncredited
1950When Willie Comes Marching HomePierre - French Resistance FighterUncredited
1950Chain LightningYoung CaptainUncredited
1950The CaptureEmployeeUncredited
1950Abbott and Costello in the Foreign LegionCorporalUncredited
1950Rio GrandeCapt. St. Jacques
1950The Du Pont StoryCharles I. du Pont
1951SiroccoMaj. RobbinetUncredited
1951Flying LeathernecksCaptainUncredited
1951I'll See You in My DreamsSoldierUncredited
1952Retreat, Hell!Maj. Knox
1952What Price GloryFrench GeneralUncredited
1952Blackbeard the PiratePirateUncredited
1953San AntoneRiderUncredited
1953The Desert RatsWiremanUncredited
1953Devil's CanyonGuardUncredited
1954Jubilee TrailHorsemanUncredited
1954Hell and High WaterCrewmanUncredited
1954King Richard and the CrusadersCastelaine
1955Son of SinbadCutthroatUncredited
1955A Lawless StreetHiram HayesUncredited
19567th CavalryPollock
1957The Halliday BrandManuel
1957The Wings of EaglesLt. Charles DexterUncredited, (final film role)

See also


  1. 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.
  2. "Hollywood Stars and Their Service in the Marine Corps". Humanities and Social Sciences Net Online. November 1999. Retrieved October 3, 2010.
  3. "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 October 3, 2010.
  4. Lieutenant Colonel Harry W. Edwards. "A Different War: Marines in Europe and North Africa" (PDF). USMC Training and Education Command. Retrieved October 3, 2010.
  5. Benis Frank. "Colonel Peter Julien Ortiz: OSS Marine, Actor, Californian". California State Military Museum. Retrieved April 21, 2014.
  6. Harris, LCpl Benjamin (March 24, 2010). "The Unknown Legend". Marines magazine. United States Marine Corps. Retrieved 3 May 2010.
  7. Navy Cross Citations USMC – World War II at the Wayback Machine (archived January 19, 2008) (archived from the original on 2008-01-19).
  8. 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 21 March 2009.
  9. "Yearly Chronologies of the United States Marine Corps – 1994". USMC Training and Education Command. Retrieved October 3, 2010.
  10. "Place du Colonel Peter Ortiz, 73210 Montgirod, France". Retrieved June 18, 2019.
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