Count Robert de La Rochefoucauld, who fought for France in World War II as an epically awesome secret agent with the British, died this spring at 88. Drawing from two recent obituaries, one in today's New York Times and the other in The Telegraph, we bring you highlights from the life of one of the world's most fascinating men.
- At age 15, Hitler gave La Rochefoucauld a pat on the cheek during a school trip to his Apline retreat at Berchtesgaden, according to The Telegraph. That was their last amicable moment, even if they never met again, face to face.
- The British flew La Rochefoucauld to England "to train him to jump out of airplanes, set off explosives and kill a man quickly using only his hands," Richard Goldstein of The New York Times wrote.
- As a secret agent in the Special Operations Executive, or SOE, La Rochefoucauld was condemned to execution twice, and epically escaped on both occasions. One escape involved dressing as a Nazi guard. The other involved dodging bullets and stealing a limousine parked outside of Gestapo headquarters.
- After surviving an under depth charge attack in a submarine off the coast of England, Rochefoucauld parachuted back to France to blow up a giant munitions factory in Saint-Médard. Over the course of the four day mission, code named "Sun," La Rochefoucauld dressed as a factory worker and "smuggled in 40 kilos of explosives, concealed in hollowed-out loaves of bread and specially designed shoes," The Telegraph wrote. He blew the place up, scaled a wall and bicycled to safety. "The blast was heard for miles," The Telegraph wrote. "After sending a message to London (the reply read simply: “Félicitations”) he enjoyed several good bottles with the local Resistance leader, waking the next day with a hangover." [My kind of guy.]
- Imprisoned at Fort du Hâ, La Rochefoucauld faked an epileptic fit and broke the neck of the guard who opened the gate for him. Then he put on a German uniform, shot the two other guards, and "walked out of the fort, through the deserted town, and to the address of an underground contact," according to The Telegraph.
- La Rochefoucauld later changed out of the German uniform and into a nun's habit to get past checks and patrols.
- "His final behind-the-lines assault came in April 1945, when he led an night raid to knock out a casemate near St-Vivien-du Médoc, on France’s western coast at the mouth of the Gironde," The Telegraph wrote. "Paddling up the river, he approached the casemate, killed a guard there, and blew it up, forcing the Germans to pull back to their final defensive position on the sea at Verdon." Shortly afterwards, his knee was injured in a mine explosion and took a month's leave.
- After the war, the 1960s, La Rochefoucauld became the mayor of Ouzouer-sur-Trézée in France, and stayed mayor for three decades. [Who wouldn't vote for him?]
- His memoir, La Liberté, C’est Mon Plaisir, 1940-1946, was published in 2002, according to The Times. [And we're going to read it as soon as we get our hands on it. And learn French.]
- "Mr. de La Rochefoucauld was a knight in the French Legion of Honor and a recipient of France’s Medal of Resistance, and he was decorated for bravery by the British," Goldstein wrote. "At his death he was believed to have been one of the last living Frenchmen of Churchill’s S.O.E."
What a man.
The truth is better than Bond.