Valor Friday

| March 19, 2021

Some of the tales I like to tell the most here are those you’ve likely never heard of. Not too long ago I talked of the World War II exploits of world famous mime Marcel Marceau. Today’s subject never came to fame later in life, but his work in occupied Europe is insanely impressive.

René Veuve was born in 1920 in Zurich, Switzerland. His father was a poor carpenter by trade and his mother a housekeeper. His mother was employed in Alsace, so young René was raised in that odd part of western Europe that’s a mix of cultures and ethnicities in a territory that bounced between France and Germany. He studied philosophy at university, graduating with honors in 1940.

The newly educated young man was thrust into war shortly thereafter as Germany invaded and steamrolled over France. At the time, René was studying the Romance Languages at a university in the United States. After his adopted home of the US became embroiled in the war, he travelled to London to join de Gaulle’s Free French Forces in 1943.

Fluent in four languages, René was one of 120 Frenchmen recruited by the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the precursor to the CIA. The goal was for these operatives to travel to France and work with La Résistance (known as the Maquis in rural areas) in occupied France. The OSS would assign René the codename Joyeuse (meaning “joyful” in French) after Charlemagne’s sword. René suggested the name himself, as a play on words on the popular operetta “The Joyful Widow” since René’s family name Veuve means “widow”.

One of the OSS’s most consequential operations of the war was sending agents into occupied western Europe in advance of the invasion of Normandy. To spirit these agents onto the continent, they were given airborne training in Britain. René, who would change his last name to Joyeuse after the war, was so trained.

On 10 April 1944 Joyeuse jumped into France. Joyeuse was dropped near Le Bourget (an inner suburb of Paris) with a radio operator as part of Operation Sussex.

Joyeuse went to work immediately, developing an intelligence network throughout the northwest suburbs of Paris. Operating under the nose of the Germans, the intelligence officers were unable to use their radios due to interference. They communicated all of their findings by Klaxon, a sort of telephone device that communicated with specially equipped, high flying Allied airplanes.

Joyeuse was noted for being exceptional among those in Operation Sussex for his “deceptiveness and sheer audacity.” As an example, to avoid any enemy attempts at radiolocation, by which the Germans would hone in on his signal, Joyeuse took the unorthodox approach of setting up shop in the house next door to a German military radio transmitter.

“I wanted to be right next to them so my signal would be mixed up with theirs and they couldn’t triangulate my position with direction-finding trucks,” he told O’Donnell, author of the 2004 book OSS History. “I remember seeing their trucks going around but they thought it was their own signal.”

Joyeuse was able to provide 60 messages by these means. His intelligence covered enemy troop movements, troop identifications, nearby airfield activities, manufacturing facilities for the V-1 rocket, underground factories, and gasoline supply depots. All of this was invaluable as the Allies prepared for the massive Invasion of Normandy.

The OSS had made no provision for providing alternative forms of communication beyond radio and Klaxon. Despite this, Joyeuse was able to get not one but two packets of intelligence to the UK by courier. The intel consisted of highly valuable information on a naval powder factory and an oil refinery. Both targets were heavily, and successfully, bombed by Allied aircraft.

One night, the house in which Joyeuse and two of his comrades were transmitting from was surrounded by Germans. While his two bodyguards were captured and executed in the encounter, Joyeuse was somehow able to escape with only a bullet wound to the foot. Despite the machine gun wound to his right foot, Joyeuse was able to evade capture and remained in hiding for 10 days before finding friendly lines.

During the war Joyeuse helped at least 200 downed Allied airmen avoid capture and ferry them to freedom through an escape network.

After the Invasion of Normandy, Joyeuse would move ahead with the Allied battle lines as they pushed east towards Germany. He would become one of the first Allied officers to reach the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Lower Saxony, Germany. When the British 11th Armored Division liberated the camp in April 1945 they found 60,000 starving, ill, and near dead prisoners with 13,000 corpses around the camp lying unburied. Bergen-Belsen is where Anne and Margot Frank were executed.

After the war, after making his nom de guerre permanent, Joyeuse worked as an intelligence officer for the French in Indochina. He frequently helped out the medics and estimated that only 1-in-12 survived. This inspired him to give up spycraft and go into the medical field.

Dr. Joyeuse

Joyeuse started medical school at the University of Paris in 1950. He met his future wife Suzanne there and after graduating they emigrated to the US, eventually becoming a citizen. Working first as a trauma surgeon at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota then as a researcher at UCLA. While there he was part of the team that developed biological heart valve replacement.

Joyeuse was then an assistant professor of surgery at College of Medicine and Dentistry in New Jersey (part of Rutgers). He maintained practicing as a trauma surgeon while teaching and was heavily involved in teaching physicians and EMTs in trauma patient care.

Dr. Joyeuse would retire at age 75 in Sarnac Lake, New York where he’d been serving as the medical director for the New York State prison system. He would die at age 92 in 2012 after a 10 year battle with Alzheimers.

“It was said that an ideal OSS candidate was a PhD who could win a bar fight,” said Charles Pinck, president of the OSS Society. “That’s a perfect description of Dr. Rene Joyeuse.”

For his wartime service, Joyeuse would join a relatively short list of foreigners to receive American valor awards. He was given a US Army Distinguished Service Cross for his “gallantry and unusual devotion to duty.” The award was personally pinned on him by General of the Army and Supreme Allied Commander Europe Dwight Eisenhower.

Among his French awards are;

  • Knight of The Legion of Honor – France’s highest decoration.
  • The Order of Liberation – France’s second highest decoration. Awarded for “Outstanding contribution to the liberation of occupied France.” There were only 1,038 awards made to living recipients.
  • The Military Medal – The country’s third highest decoration, roughly analogous to an American Silver Star, for gallantry in action.
  • The Escapee’s Medal – The criteria for award has many facets (for example, escaping a POW camp, attempted escapes, clandestine crossings of battle lines). Amazingly, more than one of these would qualify Joyeuse for the medal.
  • The Aeronautical Medal – Analogous to our Distinguished Flying Cross.
  • The Resistance Medal – Only awarded to 62,000 individuals for “Remarkable acts of courage that contributed to the resistance of the French people against the enemy.”

From the Kingdom of Laos, Joyeuse was given the amazingly named Order of the Million Elephants and the White Parasol.

On his passing, Joyeuse’s family tried to honor his long voiced wishes to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery. A recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross for wartime service in an arm of the US government, the OSS, they thought this would be a simple request. Unfortunately, the Army denied the petition on the grounds that service with the OSS did not qualify as active US military service.

Only 62 foreigners who died while serving with the US military are buried in Arlington. After lobbying at the highest levels, including significant help from then-CIA Director Patraeus and Admiral William McRaven, the Secretary of the Army John McHugh granted the waiver. He became the first Swiss to be buried at Arlington when The Old Guard escorted him to his final resting place on 29 March 2013.

Joyeuse’s wife Suzanne passed in March 2020. She had been a nurse. The Joyeuse’s left behind two sons and two grandchildren.

Category: Arlington National Cemetary, Distinguished Service Cross, Historical, Valor, We Remember

Comments (11)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. KoB says:

    “…a PhD who could win a bar fight.” Edumakated Hardcore! He was joyful as he helped make a buncha widows for the Fatherland. SALUTE!

    Great Story, Thanks Mason!

    • Only Army Mom says:

      KoB-that one line did it for me too. This is the kind of man I wish my nieces to find-“a PhD who could win in a bar fight”. Doesn’t need to have an actual PhD, just the intellectual chops to attain one if he so chose. The ability to win in a bar fight is nonnegotiable. As a matter of fact, sounds like my ideal male as well.

  2. The Other Whitey says:

    That’s a real badass right there. You sometimes hear of somebody who decides to “do something” with his life. Some people take it a lot further than others.

  3. Sparks says:

    A true hero and a great man.

  4. Martinjmpr says:

    Great writeup on an amazing soldier.

    Side question: How long before we get a faker with a DD-214 showing he was awarded the Laotian “Order of the Million Elephants?” 😀

    • Hack Stone says:

      A few Marines stationed on Camp Del Mar can lay claim that award after meeting some women frequenting the 21 Area Club.

  5. President Elect Toxic Deplorable Racist SAH Neanderthal B Woodman Domestic Violent Extremist SuperStraight says:

    “He became the first Swiss to be buried at Arlington when The Old Guard escorted him to his final resting place on 29 March 2013.”

    Where’s that damned Onion Fairy? Hand me a hankie.

  6. Only Army Mom says:

    Mason, thank you so very much. I look forward to Valor Friday as much as I do Monday and Thursday recipes and the perennially favorite Stolen Valor posts. Actually, I much prefer the Valor Fridays over the Stolen Valor. In this world, I don’t need a reminder there are scumbags, liars and cheats everywhere but remembering the world is also capable of producing such individuals is sorely needed.

    If I were Queen of the world, there would be a story such as this at the top of every newscast and newspaper. Daily.

    • KoB says:

      You are a Queen of our World Only Army Mom. You hold onto my research books while I go end this bar fight.

      • ChipNASA says:

        Ditto,
        OAM and Ex-PX2 are a couple of the Queens of TAH and there are so many more too, but, unfortunately, there are so many stinky, offensive, repulsive, ne’er-do-wells here that it hides their shine some times.
        Many blessings to all of you.
        If I’m late to the WoT, it’s because I have some freedom seeds that I believe are calling my name, that need to be sewn, so, if I can get caught up and find some time to go get that done, I do believe I’ll feel better.
        Hollar ay all of you later. I’ll be lurking.

  7. AW1Ed says:

    Hand Salute. Ready, Two! Thanks again, Mason.