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DC at Night

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Real Inglorious Bastards

Fake fictional heroes ...

.. are no match for the real thing. From left, Weber, Wynberg, Mayer.
In 2009, film director Quentin Tarantino released Inglorious Basterds, the Academy-award winning fictional story of two plots to assassinate Nazi Germany's political leadership, one planned by a French Jewish cinema proprietor and the other by a team of Jewish-American soldiers.

But even Tarantino's vivid imagination proved no match for the real-life story of Operation Green Up, a daring spy tale of bravery and cunning in which 2 American Jews and a captured anti-Nazi Austrian pilot teamed up to conduct a behind-enemy-lines series of OSS actions in Austria that has been called the most successful operation of its type conducted during World War II. In the team's most incredible exploit, group leader Frederick Mayer negotiated the surrender of Nazi stronghold Innsbruck, Austria without a shot being fired.

Last night, a documentary on the incredibly harrowing Operation Green Up (and 3 of the men involved - Mayer, his friend and fellow European ex-patriate Jewish radio operator Hans Wynberg, and Austrian local contact Franz Weber) entitled The Real Inglorious Bastards was premiered before military and Congressional leaders at the Visitors Center theater on Capitol Hill.

Following the showing, film producer Ed Barrevold and Patrick O'Donnell, author of They Dared Return, the book on which the film was based, discussed the incredible events and characters in the Green Up operation.

O'Donnell, who said that he has talked to more than 4,000 World War II veterans for books he has written, called Mayer "the greatest person by far I've ever interviewed.. He shies away from publicity, but Fred Mayer is the real deal."

Fred Mayer today
For his part, in the film, Mayer, who demonstrated the resilience, cunning, and courage of multiple James Bonds, said the reason for his actions were simple. "I hated the Nazis and I loved America," he said.

Although Mayer appeared quite articulate in the film, Barrevold said it was difficult to get him to talk about his adventures, in which he was captured and tortured by the Nazis but incredibly, eventually convinced them to surrender to the oncoming Americans. Several times during the sessions Mayer would snap at the interviewer, saying "you've already asked me that question." The interviewer however would plod on, countering by saying "but you didn't give me an answer."

The producer concurred with O'Donnell's assessment of Mayer's bravery. "Fred had the biggest balls you can ever imagine," Barrevold said. However, that war courage was kept hidden by Mayer's modest ways. The hero now lives in West Virginia and when his neighbors were shown the film, they were totally surprised. "They said 'we didn't know anything about what Fred did in the war. He never talked about it,''' the producer said.

Mayer declined to attend last night's showing saying "It will be late and I've already seen the film." .

But O'Donnell believes there is still one more chapter of the tale that must be written. Mayer should receive a Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions. "What this man did merits a medal of honor. There has been a request, but it is being treated as a process and that is an outrage. This medal is bigger than Fred Mayer. He represents a generation and this is a generation that is dying off. It (the so-far-unawarded medal) represents the generation, and the OSS and Mayer's incredible achievements."

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
The premiere of The Real Inglorious Bastards is part of the 7th annual GI Film Festival Reel Stories, Real Heroes which is now underway in DC. To see a complete list of all the films offered, click here. To see the trailer from The Real Inglorious Bastards, click here. To see the trailer for the Tarantino film, click here.

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