Frederick Mayer, Real ‘Inglorious Basterd,’ Denied Medal of Honor Again

A Jewish-American OSS hero has been denied the nation's highest military honor.



Army Times (“‘Inglourious Basterd’ of WWII deserves MoH, group says“):

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.”

I have no strong opinion on whether Mayer deserved the Medal of Honor. His heroism was genuine but I’ve read of Distinguished Service Crosses being awarded for the same sort of exploits. The Legion of Merit, which can be earned for peacetime duty, does seem rather meager. Regardless, Mayer is rightly hailed as a hero and, like most heroes, brushes aside the notion that he’s a hero.

What I do have a strong opinion on, however, is that Mayer bears little resemblance to the characters of the Quentin Tarantino film “Inglorious Basterds.” And that this is very much to his credit.

I enjoyed the flick which, like most Tarantino vehicles, had great dialog, interesting characters, and top-notch acting talent. It was compelling and entertaining fiction. But let’s be perfectly clear: the American soldiers portrayed in the movie, especially ringleader Lieutenant Aldo Raine, were war criminals committing horrific acts of terrorism in complete disregard for the law of war. They should have been tried and executed, not lauded as heroes.

FILED UNDER: Terrorism, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. John Burgess says:

    The US military don’t consider the OSS to have been part of them. When my father-in-law died, they wouldn’t allow him to be buried at Arlington Cemetery, even in the same plot as his father, USMC Commandant Thomas Holcomb. My FIL was also a USMC Reserve Colonel, but his WWII service was with OSS.

    The OSS just isn’t seen as part of the team(s).

  2. James Joyner says:

    @John Burgess: That’s interesting. Half of the CIA museum is dedicated to the OSS, which represents only 4 years vice 64 for the CIA itself. But I always thought of OSS as part of the War Department–it was led by an Army two-star, himself a Medal of Honor recipient.

  3. OzarkHillbilly says:

    It was compelling and entertaining fiction.

    Nuff said.