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'Inglourious Basterd' of WWII deserves MoH, group says

Mar. 16, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Frederick Mayer, Hans Wynberg and Franz Weber (wearing the suit) of the German Operational Group in the mountains in 1945. Weber was a deserting Wehrmacht officer.
Frederick Mayer, Hans Wynberg and Franz Weber (wearing the suit) of the German Operational Group in the mountains in 1945. Weber was a deserting Wehrmacht officer. (Courtesy EX-POW Bulletin)
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Frederick Mayer (Courtesy EX-POW Bulletin)

As the White House presents the Medal of Honor March 18 to 24 soldiers from World War II, Vietnam and Korea who didn’t receive the recognition they deserved because of their race or ethnicity, one group is calling for the same honor to be bestowed on Frederick Mayer, the “real ‘Inglourious Basterd.’ ”

The Office of Strategic Services Society, a nonprofit organization that celebrates the accomplishments of the OSS during World War II, said in a statement that it believes Mayer should have been the 25th man in the group of honorees.

Mayer, a Jewish refugee from Germany and a naturalized American citizen, was recruited by the OSS, the World War II predecessor to the CIA, according to the OSS Society.

He then volunteered to lead Operation Greenup, one of the most daring and successful missions behind German lines. Mayer’s actions were portrayed in the award-winning documentary “The Real Inglorious Bastards,” and in Patrick O’Donnell’s book, “They Dared Return: The True Story of Jewish Spies Behind the Lines in Nazi Germany.”

Mayer, now 92 and living in West Virginia, said the OSS Society contacted him about their efforts.

“They told me they’re not giving up,” he said. “I appreciate that, but it’s been turned down twice. I don’t expect anything to happen.”

The soft-spoken man also said he was not motivated by medals or awards.

“I did my job, and that’s all that really mattered,” he said. “I didn’t do it to get a medal, that’s for sure.”

On Sept. 17, 1945, Mayer was nominated for the Medal of Honor, the nation’s top award for valor, for knowingly and willingly risking his life almost daily to gather “secret intelligence of great value to the United States,” according to the OSS Society.

Mayer and his comrades parachuted into Austria in 1945 and spent months organizing elements of the anti-Nazi resistance, collecting vital intelligence about German troop movements, spying on war factories and infrastructure, and tracking the whereabouts of Mussolini and Hitler, according to an account on the website of West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller, who last April wrote to President Obama urging him to recognize Mayer’s actions.

In the two months he spent behind enemy lines, Mayer often dressed in a German officer’s uniform.

Intelligence collected by Mayer allowed the Army Air Corps to bomb 26 Nazi military trains, blocking the Brenner Pass, a key passage used by the German military to move supplies across the Alps and throughout Nazi-occupied Europe to the war front, according to Rockefeller’s website.

Mayer eventually was captured by the Gestapo and tortured for three days, but he refused to give them any information.

While in German hands, Mayer actually convinced a top Nazi to surrender Innsbruck, Austria, and all German forces in the area. He then met the advancing U.S. Army, crossing German and American lines in a combat zone at great risk to himself, to inform the Americans of the surrender. Mayer’s actions are credited with saving “countless lives” on both sides, according to the OSS Society.

The War Department rejected Mayer’s nomination for the Medal of Honor, recommending him for the Legion of Merit instead.

His commander then asked the Army to submit a new recommendation for the nation’s top award or for the Distinguished Service Cross. This request also was rejected, according to the OSS Society.

“We believe that Fred Mayer’s heroic service should be recognized by a Medal of Honor and that this injustice should be corrected,” the OSS Society said in a statement.

“His bravery behind enemy lines — and the countless lives he saved in service to the country he loves — cannot be lost to history,” Rockefeller wrote.■

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