CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. – Frederick Mayer, who 69 years later can calmly tell his incredible story while sipping coffee at his kitchen table, doesn’t think he will ever receive the Medal of Honor for his actions during World War II.
But West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie E. Tennant thinks he deserves it, and she said during the Medal of Honor ceremony today at the White House President Obama missed an opportunity to honor another American hero.
“The President missed an opportunity today to honor a true American hero by excluding Frederick Mayer from the Medal of Honor ceremony,” Secretary Tennant said. “Mr. Mayer never once put his own safety before his sense of duty to his nation. His actions during the war are as conspicuously brave as one could imagine and he should be honored for his service. Like all members of The Greatest Generation, he has never sought the spotlight for what he did, but it is up to all of us who now enjoy the freedoms that he fought for to make sure he gets recognition. After all these years, it is the right thing to do.”
In 1941 after the attack on Pearl Harbor Frederick Mayer, a German-born Jew who immigrated to the United States to flee the onrushing Nazis, joined the US Army. Being able to speak four languages – English, French, German, and Spanish – he was quickly recruited into the Office of Strategic Services, the predecessor to the Central Intelligence Agency.
He parachuted into Austria near Innsbruck in February of 1945 with two other men – Franz Weber and Hans Wynberg – and they quickly infiltrated Nazi ranks. Mayer posed as a German Lieutenant and was able to gather intelligence on the movement of 26 trains full of supplies bound for Italy. Those trains were bombed by the Allies and blocked the vital Brenner Pass in the Alps, which the German military was using to move supplies.
Mayer also posed as a French electrician – he said he always went by his real name but would change the way it was pronounced – but was eventually betrayed by a black market racketeer. While in the hands of the Gestapo, Mayer endured days of brutal torture but did not give up the names of his fellow agents.
Luckily for Mayer, he was captured just days before the end of the war. The Nazi Party Leader of the region around Innsbruck, finding out about Mayer’s capture, came to question him. Discovering that the Nazi leader wanted to surrender to the Americans and not the Red Army, Mayer was able to help negotiate the peaceful surrender of Innsbruck to the 103rd Infantry Division on May 3, 1945. The peaceful surrender saved thousands of lives.
For his actions during the war, Mayer was awarded the Legion of Merit and the Purple Heart.
Since 1977, Mayer has lived near Charles Town and calls West Virginia home, and earlier this month Secretary Tennant visited him in his home to present a special Certificate of Commendation. During the visit Secretary Tennant told Mayer that he deserves the nation’s highest military honor and the undying gratitude of the American people.
Secretary Tennant’s letter to President Obama can be read here.