A Real American Hero Gets His Due
Frederick Mayer, 92, a World War II hero and the subject of the History Channel's The Real Inglorious Bastards, finally received ten medals for his service during the war, presented by Senator Jay Rockefeller, on May 3rd. Mayer’s story is emblematic of genuine American heroes.
Mayer’s heroic story began with his Jewish family fleeing Nazi Germany with him as World War II started. But Mayer didn’t stay away from Germany for long. He volunteered to join the U.S. army, but after his rejection as an "enemy alien," he was recruited by the OSS (later the CIA) and joined their German Operational Group (OG)--precursors to the U.S. Army Green Berets, which was comprised of German-speaking commandos that would strike behind German lines. Many of the commandos were Jews wanting revenge on the Nazis for killing their families.
In the summer of 1944, the commandos sailed to North Africa but landed at the wrong port. They wound up in Italy, apart from the war, so Mayer and his five Jewish buddies in the unit stole a Jeep, abandoned their unit and routed themselves to OSS's Secret Intelligence (SI) section, volunteering to do what OSS’s previous agents had failed to do--go deep inside Nazi Germany. Other units had been caught and either killed or sent to concentration camps.
When Lt. Alfred Ulmer, the unit’s commander, found out they were Jews, he asked if they would be willing to kill, then continued, "Do you appreciate what can happen to you if you're caught?" Mayer responded with "This is more our war than yours."
Mayer and two other men penetrated a heavily guarded area near Innsbruck where Nazis were massing troops and supplies. They also identified rail traffic traveling from Innsbruck to Italy through the Brenner Pass. But in order to reach their destination they had to be dropped off on the side of a 9,000-foot glacier, risking being killed in the process, then had to sled at 60 mph down the mountain. After that, they had to bluff their way past Gestapo agents on an Innsbruck-bound train.
Once he was in the village outside Innsbruck, Mayer sat at a bar, drinking beer and ferreting out information, such as the location of Hitler’s bunker in Berlin, which he radioed back to U.S. headquarters. After that, Mayer made his way into Innsbruck, where he was able to radio the U.S. armed services the schedule for troop and munitions trains bound through the Brenner Pass and help set up air strikes on them.
In April 1945, Mayer convinced Franz Hofer, the governor of the Alpine Redoubt, to offer surrender rather than tell the Nazis to fight to the last man, which would have killed thousands of Americans.