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Green clothes : part 3 by thadeusz
Section 4 : the young Legionnaire
I received additional pieces of uniform, including a White Kepi, which I was not allowed to wear for the time being. I now had two heavy bags full of equipment. But these were also my only belongings on this earth !
Carlo and me were assigned to the same room. There were 10 double bunks, thus 20 Candidate Legionnaires ! Carlo and me slept one above the other (with Carlo on top) and this enabled us to chat even after lights out. During the first month, we had a very hard time doing field training in the mountains of Corsica. Several times, I nearly reached the breaking point, but Carlo helped me. He also told me:
"Go on, they will not let you go free if you fail this. They will only punish you and then let you start all over again, and again if needed."
I thought also that if I failed, I might be rejected and then mishandled by my father. I realized that there was only one solution to my predicament: I had to try to be a good Legionnaire. In any case I was more or less locked in. If I succeeded to become a good Legionnaire, I would be independent from my father, at least financially. And after five years it would be over !
The initial field training was concluded by a long march : 60 km in two days, in the mountains, with all our kit and our heavy weapon. At the end, all the Candidates who had succeeded to finish this march received the order to put on their White Kepi. I was one of them. As of that moment, I deserved to be called "Legionnaire" ! I must confess that despite my hatred for my own situation, the Legion ritual was so well organised that I could not avoid being mighty proud of my White Kepi.
Basic training lasted three more months. It was now early December and during the last raid march, I felt that in the Corsican mountains, it can be fairly cold. The day after, in ceremony uniform, we had to appear in front of the Colonel, one at a time, in the order in which we had been graded during basic training. Carlo was 4th but I was 5th. It is at this moment that were told where the Legion wanted us to go, i.e. in which regiment we were assigned. I had worked well during this "instruction" period and I was just after Carlo, so I hoped to be sent with him to a rather cool regiment.
Carlo was sent to 1 REC, a regiment which left Algeria and was now stationed in the south of mainland France. When my turn arrived, I was asked where I hoped to be sent. So I replied:
"Colonel, this Legionnaire hopes to be sent to 1 REC. At your command Colonel."
The Colonel looked at my file and then told his second, a Captain:
"We just sent Legionnaire Verdi" (that’s Carlo) "to 1 REC. These two new Legionnaires have been together since their first day in the Legion and the result is not too bad: both have good marks for their instructions tests. I suggest that we leave them together in 1 REC."
The Captain whispered briefly in the Colonel’s ear and showed him a document. The Colonel concluded:
"Vandoren, you need lots of supervision. I send you to the 2 REP, here in Corsica. You will be a paratrooper. Congratulations Legionnaire Vandoren."
Carlo and me were sad because of the imminent separation, but Carlo could not hide his joy to go to a regiment in mainland France. I was once again frightened not only because my regiment would be far from mainland France, but also by the reputation of very strict discipline of the 2 REP.
The same day we were separated : a bus took Carlo to the harbour in order to regain mainland France, while a truck took me to my new camp in Corsica. My friend went comfortably to the harbour while I left the center of Corsica to go, through the mountains to Camp Raffalli, a new Legion camp on the coast, but far from any boat. Camp Raffalli was the new home of the Legion paratroopers regiment. I must add here that we did not have e-mail or Facebook in those days: I tried to contact Carlo in his new regiment, but I never heard anything about him anymore.
As soon as our bunch of future paratroopers arrived in Camp Raffalli, we were told two things. First we were not allowed to leave the Camp, for any reason. Second, once again, we would have regularly haircuts and those with curls, as had been noted during their induction cut, would have their head completely shaved once a week to destroy that curlish and girlish tendency. The reason for that measure was that curls were bad for the wear of the para helmet. The haircut was our responsibility, it had to be done with either an old fashioned razor or a manual set of clippers. We were allowed to go to the regimental barber, but we would have to pay for that, or we could ask a comrade to do it for us. It was strictly forbidden to try to shave one’s own head. I asked one of my roommates to help me in this delicate domain and I promised to help him !
Section 5 : the paratrooper
I learned to be a paratrooper, and I was even told by the Sergeant Instructor that I was a darn good one. I fished the "para promotion" as first of my group, despite my rage against the Legion. My reason for doing all these efforts was simply that once I had jumped for the first time, I started to love jumping from planes perfectly able to keep flying: jumping was simply a sport for me, not a military activity.
This regimental training lasted two more months, but at the end I was rewarded: I became Legionnaire 1st Class because I was first of my group. This small promotion did not give me any other advantage than pride.
During the para training and regimental instruction, we were still in special rooms of 10. As soon as this last part of our instruction was finished we were moved to combat companies. There we had more comfortable rooms with only 6 Legionnaires in each room.
Most of the time I was not training as a soldier but doing chores or helping building the new Camp the Legion was creating after its departure from Algeria, all that after events I did not know then. The worst part of it was the weekly complete headshave with six of my companions.
After five months spent doing nothing in the Camp, or going on military outings in Corsica with our Sergeant, the "new Legionnaires" of our group were finally authorized to leave occasionally the Camp (we needed a special permit for that even if we had nothing to do in the Camp). We could now go to town for a few hours. As Legionnaire, I had of course to remain in uniform 24h/24 and 7d/7. This included my short free outings to town. During these walks to the city, we were only allowed to go to authorized bars. It was impossible to go to other places since we were in uniform and the PLE (the Police of the Legion Etrangère) would have immediately arrested us. Beer was more expensive there than in the company bar, but at least it was away from the Corporals and the Sergeants. That’s where I learned to drink a lot, to chain smoke and to get a little rest with girls.
I had also resumed my contacts with Linda, but I never told her what type of rest I had found with the barmaids behind the bar ! I had also written to my mother and I gave her my new name and address. She replied rapidly, giving me her new address: after what my father had done to me, my mother got a divorce.
Finally, about one year and 2 months after I had been forced to join the Legion, I got what was called a "long leave", 2 weeks of leave ! My comrades and me got thus the permission to leave alone the Camp for the first time in July, and only for 2 weeks !
The Adjutant told us the rules : remain in uniform all the time and stay in Corsica. For those who had good reasons to leave Corsica, it was possible to ask for a special authorization provided they mentioned their reason, the exact place where they were going to spend their leave outside Corsica and state in writing that they were ready to present themselves to the closest police station as soon as they reached their aim. Of course, they had to remain in uniform there too.
I said that I wanted to show my father, who was an ex-Adjudant Chef, what I had become thanks to the Legion. I also told my superiors that my father was too ill to come to Corsica, which was a blatant lie. I thus gave my father’s address and I promised that I would go to the nearest police station as soon as I reached my father’s town. I was one of the rare new Legionnaires who received this special authorization. I had carefully taken all my money with me, but I took only a small bag with the pieces of uniform I would need for two weeks. When I reached the boat, before letting me go on board, the PLE checked whether I actually had a leave and also whether I had the special authorization enabling me to leave Corsica during this leave.
As soon as the boat reached Marseille, I went to a clothing store where I bought a jean and a t-shirt. I immediately changed into civilian clothes, knowing that it was forbidden. I then boarded a bus to Vitrolles and went to my mother’s new address, having no intention to go to the police station.