It’s hard to imagine how a small group of marines managed to hold off against an entire battalion of Germans that were convinced that they were fighting against a battalion of marines. In reality, there were only four of them. That’s exactly what happened in August 1944 when Maj. Peter J. Ortiz and three others went on a mission that eventually led them to an intense firefight with the German forces. Here’s how they did it through a mission called Operation Union II.

A Man From Fiction

Peter J. Ortiz’s military career was like something you would read in a fiction book. He was born in New York to an American mother and a French father. He studied in France and learned to speak ten different languages, including French, Spanish, German, and Arabic. Soon, he joined the French Foreign Legion and became a war hero with his long list of medals and awards, including two Navy Crosses, the Legion d’Honneur, and the Order of the British Empire.

Peter J. Ortiz, U.S. Marine Corps. (U.S. Marine Corps, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

He was discharged in 1937 and worked briefly as a Hollywood advisor on war films. When World War II broke out, Ortiz went back to the Legion and fought in the Battle of France, where he was captured by the Germans. He was a POW for a year and a half before he managed to escape and return to the US. Once there, he attempted to be part of the US Army Air Forces, but the process was too long for him, so he instead joined the Marine Corps in 1942.

Having the vast experience and stash of medals, Ortiz easily stood out among the new recruits. He was quickly promoted and got involved in dangerous missions. His multilingual skills also made him useful to the OSS in North Africa.  In March 1943, he was wounded and sent back to the US to recover.