Colonel Peter Ortiz and the Covert Marines

Posted on November 21, 2016

Michael E. Haskew

Among the most compelling and least known U.S. Marine exploits of World War II is the saga of 41 intrepid Marines who served with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in the European Theater. The covert Marines in Europe parachuted behind enemy lines or were landed on hostile shores, conducting raids and sabotage operations and training resistance fighters to disrupt Nazi logistics.

Colonel Peter Ortiz

Colonel Peter Ortiz receives his first Navy Cross from Admiral Harold R. Stark in London. Image is courtesy of the book The Marines in World War II

Among the most colorful OSS Marines was Colonel Peter Ortiz, who received two Navy Crosses for his work with the resistance in France. Ortiz, who spoke 10 languages, served from 1932 to 1937 with the French Foreign Legion and then returned to the United States, settling in Southern California and working in the film industry as a consultant on war films. With the outbreak of World War II, he reenlisted in the Foreign Legion and was captured in France by the Germans. Ortiz endured 18 months of captivity but managed to escape. Returning to the United States, he enlisted in the Marine Corps in June 1942. His combat experience was noted, and Ortiz received a commission as a 2nd lieutenant.

Colonel Peter Ortiz conducted several covert operations in conjunction with the British Special Operations Executive and later under the auspices of the OSS. He was seriously wounded in North Africa, and during his recovery he was assigned to Operation Jedburgh, a coordinated British–American effort to lead resistance fighters across Europe in operations against the Nazis.

Colonel Peter Ortiz a Fearless Marine

Accounts relate that Colonel Peter Ortiz was fearless. One tale relates that he walked into a bar somewhere in occupied France wearing his Marine uniform beneath a raincoat. He ordered a round of drinks for a group of German officers, dropped the raincoat to reveal the Marine uniform, pulled two pistols, and ordered the Germans to drink toasts to President Roosevelt and the U.S. Marine Corps. Years later, Ortiz said that he escaped without killing the Germans, allowing them to spread the story of the event.

In August 1944, Colonel Peter Ortiz and fellow operatives were inserted into southern France. They conducted sabotage operations for two weeks before being cornered and captured. Ortiz spent the rest of the war as a prisoner and was discharged from active duty in 1946. He remained in the Marine Corps Reserve and retired in 1955.

He resumed his career in the film industry, working with the likes of actor John Wayne. Colonel Peter Ortiz died at the age of 74 on March 16, 1988. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia.

Michael E. Haskew is the editor of WWII History Magazine and the former editor of World War II Magazine . He is the author of a number of books, including THE MARINES IN WORLD WAR II. The Sniper at War and Order of Battle. Haskew is also the editor of The World War II Desk Reference with the Eisenhower Center for American Studies. He lives in Hixson, Tennessee.

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