American John Hasey, French Legionnaire During WW II Alex Chadwick remembers John Hasey, the only American to serve with the French Foreign Legion during World War II. Hasey died earlier this week in his home near Washington, D.C.
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American John Hasey, French Legionnaire During WW II

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American John Hasey, French Legionnaire During WW II

American John Hasey, French Legionnaire During WW II

American John Hasey, French Legionnaire During WW II

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Alex Chadwick remembers John Hasey, the only American to serve with the French Foreign Legion during World War II. Hasey died earlier this week in his home near Washington, D.C.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Finally today, a farewell. In my office, I keep an elegant old invitation to a ceremony in Paris for the 50th anniversary of the city's liberation in World War II. There's a familiar picture on the front taken that day, the 24th of August, 1944. The leader of the French resistance, and later of France, Charles de Gaulle framed by the Arc de Triomphe. The invitation was for someone else who'd been there that day, an American I knew when I used to work in Washington. His name was Jack Hasey, and I read this week that he's died. He was 88. He was a hero and then, when the world turned around later on, maybe a villain to some, but he was always someone you'd want on your side.

(Soundbite of 1990 interview)

Mr. JACK HASEY: I loved it. I loved it. The romance of the legion is still there.

CHADWICK: That's Jack from an interview 15 years ago on his days with the French Foreign Legion. He was a young American in Paris selling jewelry to tourists at Cartier when the Germans started marching through Europe. And if his country didn't yet know what to do, Jack did. Through a connection with de Gaulle, he became a legionnaire, fought through Africa, survived, toasted his comrades when an enemy radio broadcast had condemned them all to death, then ran out of luck in a battle in Syria.

(Soundbite of 1990 interview)

Mr. HASEY: And we got caught in this machine gun fire and they hit my face and vocal chords. That's why I talk this way. And my jaw was shot away and that was the end of my fighting there.

CHADWICK: A plane evacuating him was shot down; he survived that, too. By the time he'd recuperated back in the States, the US was in the war, but the military thought Jack was too disabled to enlist. He returned to London, worked as a go-between for de Gaulle and the American commander, Dwight Eisenhower. He went to Paris ahead of the Allied troops, driving into the city on one side as the Germans were fleeing from the other. Everyone else got to Paris a couple of days later.

(Soundbite of 1990 interview)

CHADWICK: Did it seem exciting at the time?

Mr. HASEY: No, that's the trouble. It didn't. Looking back and rereading, I'm getting fascinated myself now 'cause I hadn't thought of these things for so many years. It was fun, real fun.

CHADWICK: After the war, de Gaulle created a special order, limited to 1,000 individuals, companions of the Liberation, the special heroes who'd reclaimed France. There were a few Americans; Eisenhower was one, Jack another. By then, he was working in New York and Paris for Cartier again and bored. And when he asked Eisenhower for advice, Ike suggested an outfit that was just getting started in Washington, the CIA, and Jack went. The agency sent him to Paris again where de Gaulle was intermittently running the country.

Mr. STANLEY KARNOW (Historian): And his job in Paris was to help de Gaulle write his memoirs. In effect, it was a way of keeping tabs on de Gaulle.

CHADWICK: Journalist and historian Stanley Karnow. De Gaulle was asserting French independence from American influence then, but for de Gaulle, Jack was always welcomed and the agency was very happy to have him there.

Later, he was in Southeast Asia, where I'm pretty sure he played a significant role in changing at least one government by non-constitutional means. The Cold War was still pretty frigid back then; things looked different. By the time the CIA was enmeshed in scandals in the mid-'70s, Jack's days were over. Stanley Karnow.

Mr. KARNOW: That old sort of the piano wire school guys was gone, you know. Everything's become mechanized and computerized, and these individual guys, I don't think that they really exist anymore.

CHADWICK: No, they don't. Jack Hasey was among the last and now he's gone. Goodbye, Jack. I'll miss you and your stories, especially all those good ones that you wouldn't tell.

(Soundbite of music)

CHADWICK: DAY TO DAY is production of NPR News and slate.com. I'm Alex Chadwick.

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