Berg is the featured article on Wiki today. The multitalented baseball player and WW2 spy turned down a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1945; his sister accepted it for him after he died, according to Wiki. He seems like an odd duck, from what I’ve read, but why’d he turn down the medal?
He was petulant at being recalled from Europe by the OSS/SSU, and at being hounded to document the considerable expenses he had run up during the war. The incident is discussed briefly in The Catcher Was a Spy (p. 233-35) by Nicholas Dawidoff.
Berg was indeed “odd” and became increasingly unbalanced in later life.
He said he was “uncomfortable” with it. By all accounts, he was embarrassed by the attention and didn’t feel he deserved it.
eta, as well as the issues brought up in the post before mine.
However Kaufman, Fitzgerald and Sewell’s 1975 biography quotes the letter nominating him for the Presidential Medal for Merit at length and one of his replies, dated 12/12/46, on being told that he’d been awarded it:
Whatever his actual reasons, he seems to have at least been polite about it.
I’ve always thought Berg’s life would make a good movie. I’m sure Hollyweird would “action” it up, but it would still be neat to see.
Being that Berg was Jewish, they’d probably have either Adam Sandler or Ben Stiller play him.
To follow this up, when I raised the doubt above I didn’t have a copy of Dawidoff’s book to hand and so couldn’t check Wikipedia’s citation. In disentangling this, it’s probably easiest to work backwards.
Berg’s medal is now in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, having been donated by his sister. To see the actual medal, go to this page on their website and click on the medal at the botton with the red ribbon.
This is not the design of the current Presidential Medal of Freedom. But there was the change under Kennedy in the purpose of the award and there was a corresponding change in the design; see this page for side-by-side pictures of the pre- and post-1963 designs. The former obviously matches the medal in Cooperstown.
The pre-Kennedy version of the medal was established by Truman in 1945 as the Medal of Freedom to specifically cover wartime service. I suspect that this was then fairly widely awarded in the years immediately thereafter. (Thus even rough Googling threw up that, just amongst nuclear physicists, both Rudolf Peierls and Sam Goudsmit got it.) And the usual contemporary way of referring to it seems to have been as the “U.S. Medal of Freedom”.
There’s obviously a continuity between the two versions of the medal, though the official website’s listing of “All Recipients” that I cited in the previous post only lists sporadically few of the pre-1963 recipients, while being comprehensive thereafter. Which is why they miss Berg (and Peierls and Goudsmit). Presumably because someone being awarded it in 1946 probably has a rather different significance to someone getting the Presidential Medal of Freedom today.
FWIW Dawidoff only ever refers to it as the “Medal of Freedom”. Comparing both the discussion there and in Kaufman, Fitzgerald and Sewell, it’s plausible that his nominators were trying for either the Medal of Freedom or the Medal for Merit. Kaufman et al then do seem confused about what he was actually awarded.