Little Known Heroes of the Corps: Peter Ortiz

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As Marines we all remember men like Basilone, Puller, Daly and a host of others, but who remembers Peter Ortiz? Perhaps his exploits are less well known because he served in the European theater during World War II, one of the few Marines to do so. But his legacy is extraordinary. 


Ortiz was born in New York City in 1913 to a Spanish father and a French mother. He grew up speaking French, Spanish and of course English. At the age of 19 in 1932 his parents sent he and his sister to Grenoble University in France. He learned to speak German and was a good student, but the academic life offered little excitement for him. So, in 1933, to the consternation of his parents, he enlisted in the French Foreign Legion.


Ortiz was sent to Morocco and took part in the campaign fighting the Rif Berbers. He was awarded two Croix de Guerre medals and the Medaille Militare for heroism. To this he added parachute wings and learned to speak Arabic. In 1937 Ortiz was discharged from the legion as a sergeant. He returned to the United States and promptly went to Hollywood hoping for a career in the movies. Fate had other plans for Peter Ortiz.


In 1939 war erupted in Europe and Ortiz immediately returned to France and rejoined the Foreign Legion. He took part in the 1940 Battle of France and was wounded and captured while detonating the charges that blew up a bridge. In 1941 he escaped from a POW camp in Germany, made his way to Spain, and was able to return to the United States. 


In 1941 Ortiz joined the Marine Corps. Upon reporting to Paris Island, Drill Instructors were amazed at their new recruit proudly wearing a Foreign Legion uniform with all of his decorations. Reviewing his history, language skills, and combat experience the Corps recommended Ortiz for the newly formed OSS. Ortiz was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant and sent to jump school at New River in North Carolina (even though he already had 154 jumps with the Foreign Legion). 


In 1942 Ortiz was sent to Tunisia as part of Operation Torch. His mission was to sabotage and combat intelligence. In 1943 Ortiz was at the Battle of Kasserine Pass where American forces were mauled by the Germans. Ortiz found himself fighting with the British and then fell in with old comrades of the Foreign Legion. He was wounded while attacking a tank and invalided back to the United States.


In January 1944, fully recovered, Ortiz parachuted into southern France to organize the Resistance and assess its capabilities. While in occupied France, Ortiz always wore his Marine Corps Class A uniform with all his French and American decorations (he said later to impress the locals). During this first insertion into occupied Europe, Ortiz encountered four Royal Air Force pilots hiding out with the Resistance. Ortiz went to the local Gestapo headquarters, and while speaking perfect German stole a vehicle and drove the British pilots to Spain and freedom. For this he was eventually awarded the Order of the British Empire. In May he was awarded the Navy Cross by the Marine Corps.


Ortiz parachuted back into southern France again in August 1944 with five other Marines. During this second insertion Ortiz was sitting in a café one night. Nearby, four German officers were dining and drinking and in the course of the evening Ortiz overheard these Germans insulting the U.S., President Roosevelt, and finally the Marine Corps. This was too much for Ortiz; he returned to his room, put on his Marine uniform and a trench coat over it. He returned to the café, where he confronted the German Officers, whipped off his trench coat and pulled out his .45 automatic. The astounded Germans were then ordered to drink a toast to the U.S., Roosevelt and finally one for the Corps. Ortiz then shot out the light and in a hail of gunfire made his escape.


On August 16, 1944 Ortiz and his five Marines took on a company of German infantrymen. The Germans took hostages of the local villagers, threatening to shoot them if the Marines did not surrender. Calling out in German for the enemy to cease fire, Ortiz approached the German Major and surrendered his men on condition that the villagers were not hurt. The Germans were astounded that they were facing only six Marines. Ortiz spent the rest of the war in a POW camp from which he attempted multiple escapes.


Peter Ortiz ended the war with two Navy Crosses, the Legion of Merit "V" , two Purple Hearts, the Order of the British Empire, French Legion d Honneur, Medaille militaire, and five Croix du Guerres among many other awards. Ortiz retired in 1955 and was promoted to Colonel on the retired list as a decorated combat veteran. He died in 1988 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. He was a first class fighting Marine if ever there was one and deserves to be remembered.

By L. M. Howard, LtCol USMC, Ret.
LtCol Howard has served as a Docent at the MCRD Museum for over 15 years.

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Phil Blanks Interview

Marine Corps heroism and bravery can be seen on and off the battlefield. In this video interview MCRD Museum Foundation Deputy Director Chris Weimer spoke with Phil Blanks, a Marine Corps veteran and Phoenix area hero. Phil's quick thinking and Marine Corps training enabled him to save the life of a child during a deadly apartment fire earlier this year. Watch above to hear from Phil about his story and how his time in the Marine Corps has shaped his life. 

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Dropping the Rank: One of the Biggest Obstacles to a Successful Military to Civilian Transition

*The following piece is an op-ed and in no way represents the Department of Defense, the United States Marine Corps, or the MCRD Museum. The views and opinions expressed here belong solely to the original author. 


In today's day and age of information sharing and a growing public awareness about all things military, the topic of military transition to civilian life is not an uncommon subject. There are certainly a variety of challenges that affect the outcome of a successful or unsuccessful transition from the military. Loss of identity, unfamiliar structures and systems, co-workers that have a different understanding of the workplace and world in general, shifting roles from being the top expert in your field to the stay-at-home parent and the list goes on. Being a veteran who has navigated my own transition for the last thirteen years and someone who has worked in the veteran space for over six years now, it has become clear to me that something many of us do out of respect, may actually be the single biggest obstacle to helping our veterans transition successfully from the military.


I want to preface these thoughts by stating I realize this is in many ways a taboo and controversial opinion, but one I'm passionate enough about to understand that if we are truly trying to help our veterans live the life they have earned ten times over, post military, then we have to address these types of taboo subjects that have become societal norms. 


In my opinion, the single biggest obstacle to setting veterans up for a successful transition out of the military is by continuing to address them by their highest held rank. On one hand, I agree that if someone requests to be addressed in that manner, it is absolutely their right. But what I have noticed is that it is often not done at the request of the individual, rather it is done based on a preconceived notion that this is what the veteran expects or that is what is appropriate. 


In the civilian world, if you retired as the Executive Vice President of Toyota, I find it hard to believe that is how your friends and colleagues would introduce you. You may be recognized as the former Executive VP at some point in the conversation, but for the most part, you are introduced by your name instead of a previously held title. 


Those who dissent from this opinion will say they have earned the right to be addressed as Colonel, Sergeant Major, Master Chief, etc., and you will not ever hear me disagree with that. My point is, if someone is supposed to reprogram themselves from the only environment and professional system they have legitimately known, by addressing them as their last held rank we are keeping them in a perpetual state of identifying as military personnel as opposed to Chris, Sarah, or Mr./Mrs. Smith. 


By addressing veterans by their rank, we are subconsciously reaffirming their belief that their entire identity and the greatest accomplishment of their life is something they have already achieved. That assumption could not be further from the truth. Our greatest accomplishments as people, in my opinion, are the summation of our cumulative contributions to our families, neighbors, communities, and betterment of society as whole for future generations. This can only be completed when a veteran combines their military service with the many amazing accomplishments they will have post military.


Let me be clear, I am not stating that any person/ organization is doing anything wrong by addressing a veteran by their rank. In contrast, most do it out of an abundance of respect, and I whole heartedly believe intention should be a key determining factor when judging the acts of others. But to simply say it’s the respectful thing to do or its the appropriate thing to do without having an honest conversation of the second, third, and fourth order affects from doing so, is inherently detrimental to the goal we all collective share. We all want to see our veterans prosper, find happiness, and experience tremendous success, but if we continue to identify veterans with a professional title from their past, then it will be inherently more difficult for them to move forward.


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Chris Weimer, Marine Veteran and current Deputy Director of the MCRD Museum Foundation


Chris Weimer is a Marine veteran and currently serves as the Deputy Director of the MCRD Museum Foundation. During his time in the Marine Corps he deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and was awarded a Purple Heart among other honors. 

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In Memory of Sgt Lucas Pyeatt, USMC



This Friday, the MCRD Museum Foundation is holding its annual golf tournament fundraiser, named in memory of Sgt Lucas Pyeatt.

Sergeant Lucas T. Pyeatt was the epitome of a United States Marine. Raised in Newport News, Virginia, Lucas was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and was an active member of his community. He was also a rather talented bass player and Eagle Scout. Lucas showed a unique passion and enthusiasm for life in all he pursued.

In addition to using his many talents to accomplish many things, he lived his life in a way that would lead even a casual acquaintance to conclude that he was a person whose every action was characterized by kindness and consideration for others. For him, standing up for the little guy was a way of life. Among his many acts of benevolence toward his friends and family was taking the time to learn sign language to better communicate with a close friend who was deaf.

After high school, he attended Old Dominion University for a short while, but ultimately decided to follow in the footsteps of his father, a 30-year Air Force veteran, and offer his service to his nation by enlisting in the United States Marine Corps.

Lucas put the same drive and devotion into being a Marine that he had exhibited in his formative years. He excelled in his studies at the Defense Language Institute, becoming fluent in Russian. After training, he was assigned to the II Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group at Camp Lejeune. In 2011 his unit deployed to southern Afghanistan.

While deployed, Sgt Pyeatt’s job was to translate, monitor and transcribe critical information in real time, with the aim of gaining intelligence on enemy insurgent operations and activities. During his brief but significant time in Afghanistan, Sgt Pyeatt’s leadership and technical skills “were instrumental in the conduct of direction finding and enemy communications in a contested region.”

Sergeant Pyeatt had only been “in country” for two weeks when he volunteered to participate in an important mission. While on his first foot patrol in February 2011, he lost his life to an improvised explosive device.

During his life Lucas T. Pyeatt was many things to many people. To his family, he was a devoted son. To his friends, he was someone they could always look to for help and support. To his nation, Sergeant Pyeatt was a loyal and dedicated member of the United States Marine Corps.

His father said it best, noting his son had “accomplished more in his 24 years of life than most people accomplish in a lifetime.” In his service and sacrifice, Sergeant Pyeatt more than lived up to the motto of the Corps by being always faithful to his loved ones, his fellow Marines, and most of all to those principles and virtues that for over two centuries, have allowed our nation to remain free.

Sgt Pyeatt’s legacy lives on not only in the hearts of his loved ones, but also through the museum’s VOICE Program. Through donations made in his memory, hundreds of active duty Marines and veterans benefit from community building events, discussion groups, education programs, and more. Thank you, Sgt Pyeatt, and Semper Fidelis.

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