For a look at the REAL La Légion Etrangère’s 2ème Régiment Étranger de Parachutistes fighting today in Afghanistan, watch this Youtube video. This elite international intervention force is still based in Calvi, Corsica.
The back story for MOTHER TONGUE involved a wild adventure I had at nineteen involving, a British yacht, The Wigeon of Fearn, a “crew” of thirteen dissolute young people, a drunken skipper (seen in the rear of this photo taken at Portofino)–all of whom sailed the Northern Mediterranean, and, among other things, tried to sneak two Foreign Legionnaires off of the island of Corsica! We failed in our mission but I never forgot the many stories of intrigues and foolishness that would evolve eventually into the story of MOTHER TONGUE. I even wrote a poem about our adventure shortly after the voyage ended.
EXCERPT from MOTHER TONGUE: Liz Fallon has just met they mysterious French police officer, Philippe LeClerc, who presents himself as much less than he really is. Their early morning chat takes place on a granite outcropping amid the maquis on the Cap Corse peninsula just after sunrise. They surprisingly find a connection between her mother, his father and the Foreign Legion.
“I have my own story about conscription by the French military,” I said. “My mother’s story actually.”
“Vraiment? Tell me.”
I sketched out a few details about my mother and the crew of the Wigeon of Fearn trying to liberate two Foreign Legionnaires from the island, careful to leave the impression that my mother was just another American college kid.
Not until I uttered the words Bonifacio and summer of ’63 did LeClerc respond. “Incroyable! My father was a Lieutenant Colonel in the 2me Étranger du Parachutists, the second airborne of the Legion. He was sent to Bonifacio after the exodus from Algeria in ‘62.”
“Do you think he could have been the officer over the men my mother and her friends tried to sneak off the island?”
He looked off into the distance. “Je ne sais pas.”
“So you lived in Corsica then?”
LeClerc paused as though he wasn’t prepared to answer questions about his personal life. I quickly apologized to keep the buttering-up process on track. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t pry.” Or at least do it more carefully.
“Not at all. The fact is that we never lived where my father was stationed. Although, we visited him that summer. I was nine.” Philippe hesitated again and then changed the subject. “Were your mother’s friends successful?”
“No, someone snitched. It all fell apart. They felt badly because the Legionnaires told them that they woke up with a bad hangover in Marseille and found themselves signed up for six years in the Legion.”
“Impossible. The paras were the elite of the Legion, a special intervention force, even back then. No one would have been shanghaied from a bar.”
“And if they’d gotten caught trying to escape?”
“They would have been stripped, placed in solitary confinement, probably suffered a beating. Attempted desertion is still treated very harshly in the Legion.”
I shifted my position on the rock and broke off a nearby stalk of rosemary, twiddling it between my fingers, pleased that I had gotten LeClerc talking about his family. Find out about the father and you’ll find out about the man. “And your father would have allowed that sort of thing?”
“He would have ordered it.”
I wasn’t shocked. I’d known other men, like Briana’s stepfather, with that same sociopathic streak of cruelty.
LeClerc ran his hands over his knees and stared at the rising sun. “My father was something of a legend. He survived Dien Bien Phu and then fought in Algeria against the FLN. He treated his regiment like personal property. He would not have taken it lightly if two of his men deserted. He might even have ordered a corvée de bois.”
“You tell a prisoner he is free to go and then shoot him in the back.”
Now I was shocked. “You’re kidding?”
He looked at me and broke into a sliver of a smile. “Of course. But it makes for a good story, n’est ce pas?”