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Klaus, Mark, and Dave : part 5 and end by thadeusz
On the very first day, at the entrance of the Fort, I had to give my papers and my money to a very impressive legionnaire, whom I soon learned to know as Adjudant Chef Karminsky. This Adjudant Chef told me that my name was from now on "Luis Torpez" and he made me sign a five year contract. I signed it with joy, I knew that I was, for the time since years, safe !
There were other candidates legionnaires and I made some friends. I rapidly realized that many among them were also in a desperate situation. I also noticed that, as far as sports were concerned, they were better trained than I was: three years in a prison doing Hard Labour gave me strong muscles on the arms, but that was all. Being badly nourished and having to walk with shackles on the ankles did not help me to be fast when running. I thought I might have better waited and trained using the money I found in my brother’s safe. Now, it was too late.
Our group was transported to Aubagne where most of the tests took place. I was excellent as far as IQ, psychological test (after all I had been a lawyer) and my medical test was not too bad. Sports on the contrary were very bad, but I made it to the interview called "the GESTAPO" because they ask you all kind of questions about your motivation and about your past.
I entered the interrogation office dressed in a blue jumpsuit, without hat but with white sport shoes: the usual uniform for candidates legionnaires. An officer was seated behind his desk and looked at me. I learned later that he was a Captain. I automatically took the position of attention, which made the officer smile. He said:
"At ease, candidate Torpez."
I took this position and the officer smiled even more. He then asked:
"Ever been in the military ?"
"No Sir, only in prison during three years."
"In prison ?"
"Yes Sir. Let me tell you story. You won’t believe it, but it is true."
"OK, tell your story, we have time enough."
I told my complete story, including the way I escaped. I ended saying once more:
"I assume you don’t believe me, Sir."
"During your appeal, you could not prove who you were. And now, here ?"
"Sir, on the driver’s licence I found in my brother’s apartment, there are my own fingerprints !"
"And you claim you are a lawyer ?"
"Yes Sir, I have been trained as such."
"Do you know some French ?"
"Yes Sir, I took French in high school and later on in college."
The discussion took a very long time now, but the officer did seem to be ready to stop. He took a very thick book on a shelve and he told me:
"Look at this book. Do you know it ?"
"No Sir" but I now know that it is the Dalloz, one the best books about legal acts in France.
The officer opened the book at random and told me:
"You have 10 minutes to read this passage and explain its relevance to me, in plain language."
"Sir, could I have paper and a pencil. I am used to make notes when reading a document."
"OK, take what you need on my desk and start, but remain standing like a soldier must do."
"Sir, I am used to have some music when I study legal documents. Do I have your permission to sing some Mozart ?"
"Mozart ? Why not. Sing, you have exactly 10 minutes left before I throw you out of the Legion."
I sang, read, made notes, made a plan of the text and searched for other related passages in the book. After a short time, I was ready. I started to explain, in plain French what this text was about and what were the other documents connected to it. There is a search technique for these documents you learn when you study for a law degree. The officer interrupted me rapidly and said:
"Excellent ! That’s exactly what we need. Whatever your other tests are, you are selected Torpez. You will be trained as legionnaire. Learn to obey your officers orders and you will rapidly be an excellent legionnaire. Your real name and situation will remain a secret. DISMISS."
I left this officer’s office, very happy as everyone can imagine. A few days later the names of all selected candidates were announced and I was among them. A Caporal-Chef marched us to the barber who was, as far as I am concerned, I big legionnaire with a russian accent. He looked at me and asked:
"You nearly have an induction cut. Where did you get that ?"
"In jail ! Hard Labour in High Security prison. The Chief Guard did not like me."
"Oh ! I can see that. There are scars on your head. You don’t really need a head shave."
"Please give me one. All the previous ones were given by brutes who wanted to humiliate and abase me. This haircut must be a liberation. I will soon be a legionnaire like you. Help me to mark the transition."
And this big military barber, shaped to be a dreadful brute started to shave my head with gentleness and kindness. He let his clippers pass slowly from front to back, in the center of my head. He passed on the left and then on the right. He gently warned me and pushed my head to the left, then to the right. In fact he did everything to really give me the proper head shave, constantly telling me what he was doing to do, warning me about his next move. I think he never did that before, and never did it again after. But all the time he was reducing what was left of my hair in order to give me what they call a "BAZ", a "Boule à Zéro", I was jubilating. I was exulting because this haircut was a liberation of all the dreadful haircuts I been subjected to during 3 years. The previous ones were meant to tame me, they had been imposed by brute force. This one was different because I had really asked for it. It marked the end of my old and painful life and the beginning of my new life as Luis Torpez.
I received my uniform and my green beret, like all the other recruits, but it was really a change to wear now a comfortable uniform. It was still a compulsory set of clothes, but it was a chosen one. It was nearly as if I had received my Christmas presents. The best part of it was my green beret. A nice new cover, with a nice badge: that of my regiment, 4 RE, and not my "number".
The first weeks of basic training seemed very difficult for some of our group. That was not my case after my years Hard Labour. I gladly learned to march on step and to carry heavy loads on rather long distance. I loved the "Képi Blanc" march and received with an enormous pride my Képi, my white kepi, becoming thus a legionnaire and no longer a simple recruit. Basic training went on during three more months and some of my friends, new legionnaires, complained about the fact that they were not allowed to communicate with their relatives. I did no longer have that problem: except for Dave, I had no relative any more, and contacting Dave as long as he was in prison was dangerous for me.
During the 4 months of Basic training, I kept my hair very short. I regularly asked one of my comrades to shave my head, and he did it kindly and never brutally. I reciprocated this action for his head ! But it was never more the wonderful feeling I had during that first liberating haircut, when I was first accepted as legionnaire.
At the end of Basic Training, most of my comrades were sent to combat regiments. Three of us, me included, were told to stay in the training regiment as assistant corporals to help train new recruits. We did so with two successive groups of recruits. After that, we were in the Legion since one year only, but we were already sent to the corporal course which lasted two months. At the end of this special course, my friends were also sent to combat regiments but I was sent to 1 RE, the place where all the administration and selection takes place. I was thus sent to Aubagne as, now Corporal Torpez, and assigned to the legal service. My French was quite good and fluent by then, except for my American accent.
I worked in Aubagne trying to study all the legal problems raised by legionnaires. Many had problems because of an incident with civilians and the Legion tried either to try them in their regiment and to punish them there as they deserved. Sometimes, the incident was more serious and the culprit had to appear in court where a civilian judge tried him. I was in charge of preparing all these files according to Legion rules and to the French legal system. There were also cases when the Legionnaire had problems with people in his home town, that was the case for legionnaires who had recovered their legal name. These Legionnaires had to be helped and it was my duty to find information in their native country legal system, which was sometimes very different. When I was not working on such files, I had other legal documents to prepare. In other words: my life was full of work and it was the kind of work I had been trained to do before being treacherously put into my brother’s prison uniform. I was happy now.
As Corporal, I had very often free time on the weekends. I always went to the center of the little city where my regiment was stationed, less often to Marseille which was not very far but which could be very dangerous for legionnaires. That’s where I met a nice girl called Rose. We met often, we danced, drank and ate together. Finally we went one step further. After a certain time we decided to live together. The only problem was that I had to spend most of my nights inside the regiment and that I could not marry her since I had not yet 5 years of service and since I lived under an assumed identity, which I did not want to change for my real identity.
After 3 years and 6 months of service, I had a new chief: we change officers every two years in the Legion. I had already changed Captain without any problem, but this one was going to prepare a surprise for me. The new Captain called me in his office. He wanted me to sign an additional 3 years contract in order to become Sergeant, which was OK with me, but he also wanted me to ask to get my real identity again. That created a problem for me. I had told my whole story in the very beginning to another Legion Captain and he had accepted it, so I decided to tell it again to this new Captain. Once I was done, the new Captain asked me:
"Do you want to stay in the Legion and continue your present work as simple clerk, despite your qualification as full lawyer ?"
"Sir, I don’t mind doing my work as it is, but I must admit that I regret the actual trials."
"You understand that you cannot be sent to court presently."
"In that case, sign this additional contract with your present name and bring me immediately your real passport and driver’s licence."
I signed my additional contract with joy and was sent to the sergeant course a few days later. Before leaving, I went to the regimental barber, a legionnaire 1st Class this time, and I asked him to give me a refreshing haircut. I must add here that since a few years I had reverted to the traditional "lawyer style" haircut. It was relatively long, according to Legion regulations, but nobody told me that it was too long. This time, since I was going to become an NCO, I wanted to really look like a legionnaire. So I told the barber to leave 1 millimeter on the sides and 3 millimeters on the top of the head. He replied:
"Corporal, that will not be nice for someone like you working in the law office."
"Yes, but now I am on the verge of leaving for the Sergeant course and I want to look like like a real active duty legionnaire."
"In that case, Corporal, if it is OK with you, I will use clippers without guard for the side and leave only a small and short top below your beret."
"It’s Ok with me, but be fast !"
The barber started shaving rapidly. He pushed and pull my head in all directions. He told me to turn it it to the left or to the right when it was needed. Finally, he shaved my neck with a zero guard and cleaned rapidly, and thus slightly brutally, my ears and nose. I looked in the mirror: it had been done rapidly, thus slightly brutally but the result was worthwhile ! I did not know what my Rose would think about it and I chose to ignore that problem.
In fact, Rose did not really mind my new haircut ! So I left for the Sergeant course, in peace with my chiefs, the haircut regulations and … my girlfriend.
I was absent during 4 months. This Sergeant course was even more grueling than the Caporal course, but at the end I was the first of our promotion and I received, with all the others, a great Black Kepi to show my new rank. My best beloved was present for this ceremony and we left immediately after for a wonderful 3 weeks leave. We went to Paris and spent our time going to museums, theatres and restaurants. Very unusual places for a legionnaire, but after all I was now a Sergeant !
When I came back to the regiment, I was called by my Captain. I went to his office assuming he just wanted to congratulate me. He did that, but he went further:
"Sergeant Torpez, while you were at your course, I made a discrete investigation with the help of the secret service. I got the fingerprints of Karl AND those of Mark Tannenberg as they are kept in the Federal Databases of your country. Mark’s fingerprint and yours are identical. According to the investigation, Mark was a good trial lawyer who died unexpectedly. Karl’s fingerprints in the Federal Databases are very different. This Karl, was a felon. He was probably working for the maffia, although that could never be established for sure. He was sent to a very bad prison. There the situation becomes more complex: his fingerprints in the prison are not those kept in the Federal Databases concerning passports and driver’s license. His prison fingerprints are identical to yours. According to our secret service this clearly means that your whole story, as you told it as soon as you joined the Legion, is 100% correct. But it will probably be difficult to make the Americans accept that. Especially since for them, you are dead and escaped ! What do you say about this, Sergeant Torpez ?"
"Sir, the story as you told it simply confirms that I have always been honest. I will remain like that, as Luis Torpez with your permission."
"Permission denied, Sergeant. The General commanding the Legion took already all the necessary steps to place you on a better track. We have now the proof of your real identity, we also have a copy of your birth certificate. It mentions that you are dead, but we know better. So you will very soon have your real identity back. Simultaneously the President, acting on the General’s request, will grant you the French nationality for good services in the Legion. You will thus be perfectly protected: by your new nationality and by the fact that the man who ran away from a High Security prison is … dead !"
"Are you sure Sir that this protection will be satisfactory ?"
"If you are not pleased with it, you can ask, with the Legion help, to have your name officially changed to Luis Torpez. Do you want that ?"
A few months later I received three documents I still cherish: first a document establishing that Sergeant Luis Torpez was in fact Sergeant Mark Tannenberg, second a document establishing that Sergeant Mark Tannenberg is a French citizen and thirdly a document establishing that the French citizen Mark Tannenberg has from now on as legal name Luis Torpez. I felt now completely free.
But I was not completely free ! The Colonel called me in his office and being called by a Colonel when you are a fresh Sergeant is always more impressive than being called by a friendly Captain. The Colonel simply told me that I had one year exactly to take the French equivalent of our bar exam in order to be able to act as lawyer in court.
"If you fail," said the Colonel, "you will simply been demoted and end up as 1st Class legionnaire doing your old job without promotion."
I knew that in the Legion you don’t own your rank, it is only lent to you and can be taken away very rapidly, but this was a new threat. The Colonel went on:
"As officer, I like your haircut. Do you intend to keep it when you will be promoted to Lieutenant ?"
"Sir, how could I be promoted so high ?"
"Simply on the basis of your law diploma, once you have it. Go and work. DISMISS SERGEANT."
I left the Colonel’s office not knowing very well how I felt. My girlfriend told me that I simply had to work, especially now since we had done well to celebrate my promotion to Sergeant. A marriage was now really suitable. I understood what she meant and started working as well as I could.
I passed the French bar exam without problem. I was then promoted to Lieutenant. I am still in the Legion, doing the same work as before plus appearing in court as lawyer. I am also a married man and father of three, one was born while I studied for the bar exam.
I chose to keep my legionnaire very short haircut. I also wrote several times to Dave’s family, but I got no answer.
One day, a black Corporal with a strong American accent asked to see me. He was my old friend Dave, now a free man, who had read all my positive advices about the legion. He was in Aubagne because he came from his regiment, the para regiment of the legion, and was going to the Sergeant course.
Dave told me that after my escape, Nicholas and himself had been placed in the same cell. They had both been very badly treated but members of Dave’s family had visited him and told him where I was. He had thus decided to follow my footsteps as soon as he could get out of the prison.
Nicholas had spent dreadful moments in prison. He remained calm and did not get ADT. His mind was set on one thing: going to France and join the Legion since he could no longer join the Marines. He came to France with his girlfriend, cause of many of his miseries, and joined the Legion while she was now working in Calvi, in Corsica, close to the para regiment.
My wife and me made a big feast for this future Sergeant who helped me so much during my first very bad days, this man whose rebellion enabled me to realize that I should not accept the Chief Guard mean attitude.