Friday, August 01, 2008

The Yankee Fighter

This week's book for me is a little unusual, at least by my standards. I won't bother posting a review on my Web site of it. For it was written in 1942.

It's called "Yankee Fighter," by John Hasey. No reason you should know that name, but I have a connection to it. Hasey was my grandmother's nephew, and he has a pretty fascinating story. The book has been sitting on my parents' bookshelf for decades, and I finally decided to get it and read it -- in part because of my recent interest in geneology.

Hasey was working in France when World War II broke out, and signed up to fight with the French. He became a hero for his actions, and was one of two Americans to attend de Gaulle's small private funeral. Some guy named Eisenhower was the other.

You can read the basics of his life in this Washington Post obituary from a few years ago.

The book, though, is pretty interesting. Hasey went to France on something of a whim after a year of college, and got a job at Cartier's selling expensive jewelry (well, they don't have any cheap stuff, actually). There he served the rich and famous, everyone from the Duke of Windsor to Don Ameche.

Then the war broke out. Hasey first went to Finland to work on an ambulance service (he wasn't allowed in combat because he was an American). Then he returned to France, just in time to see the government collapse as the Germans broke through. It's fascinating to read his accounts of life in southern France as the Germans started to take over -- general chaos, refugees everywhere, shortages of supplies, etc. It's not a story that's told very often in America.

Hasey eventually made his way to England, met de Gaulle, and received permission to go into combat. He fought in Africa, and had his jaw and throat damaged near Damascus, which is the first chapter of the book. I haven't finished the book yet (50 pages to go), but it's strange to read WW2 accounts in which the author doesn't know how the war will turn out.

Hasey worked for Cartier after the war for a while, and then went to work for the CIA for almost a quarter of a century. My parents used to call him "The Great American Spy" in jest, but were in admiration of his abilities. They hosted a party for him in the late 1950's, and Mom says she's never seen anyone who was better at working a room at a party than Hasey. He spoke in a soft voice, of course, but he was worth a listen.

Everyone else in the family tree is going to have trouble living up to that particular legacy.

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