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Green clothes : part 5 and end by thadeusz
Section 7. The Corporal
I became thus "Légionnaire Karl Verbist, Matricule 144 158, born in Liège, Belgium and French speaking Belgian".
The Corporals who had been so nasty with me took off my ankle chain and gave me a last haircut, it was again a "Boule à Zéro", a severe baldy, but not a complete body shave. I was then sent to the Legion detachment in Mayotte, a small island in the Indian Ocean. Luckily, the Legion accepted that without requiring me to go again through instruction.
There was nothing to do there, our detachment served only as proof of France’s authority on the island. So I wanted to resume my studies, but my new Commandant, a Lieutenant Colonel, forbade that activity as non military. I knew too well what kind of punishment the Legion could inflict, so I stopped trying to study.
I wrote numerous love letters to Linda, this was not expensive for me since as "deployed soldier" my letters were exempt of stamps. Linda replied in numerous letters. She wrote that she loved me and would wait for me. She later told me that, since airmail stamps for Mayotte were expensive, these letters had cost her a small fortune ! Linda was now studying law at the university and only had a small scholarship.
To occupy my free time, and I had a lot, I continued drinking, smoking cigarettes and going every evening to a brothel. That did not stop me being in love with Linda only. I never told her about my Mayotte activities, but I assume that with her shrewd mind, she guessed that much.
Normally, Legionnaires sent to Mayotte stay there during 4 months only, except the few forming the "permanent staff". I was placed in that permanent staff and did mostly orderly and office work. This made me nearly crazy because I had nothing serious to do, and no time for sports despite the fact that I loved that.
After two years doing nothing, I had been promoted to Legionnaire 1st Class, but I had nothing serious to do. I hoped to be sent to another regiment: this would be normal for any other Legionnaire. Since no order to move was given, I asked my direct chief, a Lieutenant, to have the possibility to speak directly to the Lieutenant Colonel, which is a possibility in the Legion, but also a dangerous one since the Lieutenant Colonel could conclude that I was impertinent, take my 1st Class back and send me to the brig. I was given an appointment and entered his office introducing me according to the rules.
"Legionnaire Verbist, Matricule 144 158, at your command Colonel." One always address a Lieutenant Colonel as "Colonel".
"What do you want, Legionnaire Verbist ?"
"Colonel, this Legionnaire is here since two years now. Most Legionnaires stay her for shorter periods and are sent back to their combat regiment. Others stay longer: they stay here during 2 years but never more. This Legionnaire would like to serve the Legion in a more active way. Could this Legionnaire also be sent back to mainland France, or to an actually combat regiment ?"
"Verbist, I am very satisfied with your attitude and with the way you act as soldier here. Personally I approve your request. But there is a small note attached to your file with the mention ‘Must be kept under strict control’. There is no other explanation, but I have to respect this note."
"Colonel, the Legion could send me to the paratrooper regiment which is in Corsica and where the discipline is much tougher than here. This Legionnaire would be there under strict control since it is expensive and difficult to go on a boat. The Legion might even decide to suppress all leaves for me, provided that you send this Legionnaire to a regiment where he would be active."
"I appreciate your good will, Legionnaire Verbist, and I will communicate about this with the General Commanding the Legion. DISMISS."
"At your command, Colonel."
I saluted according to the rules, made a perfect about-face, as I had been told, and left the Commandant’s office.
In fact, my Commandant was impressed by my will to serve and succeeded to organize for me a transfer. I went first back to Corte, in Corsica, where I had been trained to become a Legionnaire. I was trained there to become a Corporal: the Legion had suddenly enough confidence in me ! But this training lasted during two grueling months. I was then sent back to the paratrooper regiment where, the Legion being very stupid, I had to learn again to be a paratrooper. I was not allowed to leave Corsica, even during the leaves they had to give me by law, but my mother and Linda visited me several times.
I finally ended my 5 year contract with the Legion and I was invited to sign a new contract and stay in order to become Sergeant. But I refused this "kind" offer. The Legion thus decided to refuse to give me a "Good Conduct Certificate", which was irrelevant for me since I was French and could stay in the country. This was not the case of my foreign comrades and the Legion had thus a solid grip on them.
As soon as I had been demobilized, I went home to my mother as a free civilian. I was now 24 and I had spent nearly 7 years in the Legion because of my father.
My first visit was for Linda, who was now 25 and also a lawyer. One of the first feminine lawyers of the neighbourhood.
I had no identity card: before I started my Legion adventure, I was too young to have one and, since I had no "Good Conduct Certificate", I had had to give my Legion ID back when I left. The only thing I had was a certificat saying that "Corporal Karl Verbist has served the Legion during 5 years but does not deserve a ‘Good Conduct Certificate’. "
Section 8. the new paratrooper
After a few days rest, I went to the town hall and asked for an identity card: I needed several documents to be able either to go back to school (which at my age was not likely) or to find a job. The town hall employee searched in his files and in his cards (there were no computer then) and finally gave me a document: I had to go immediately to the police because I was "wanted". But this employee knew me well and also knew my "Legion adventures" (Vitrolles is a small town). He suggested me to wait a few days, until my ID was ready.
A few days later, with my new (and first) civilian ID, I went to the police station where I was arrested because … the Army accused me of refusing to do my military service. I tried to explain, but I was told that the military court would decide my fate. I was thus kept prisoner because I had too often refused to answer the summons sent by the Army, summons I had never received. One week later I was led, handcuffed, to the Permanent Military Court in Marseille. The court was presided as, the previous time, by a Colonel of the regular Army, accompanied by a Captain and an NCO. A Corporal served as court clerk. This Corporal called my name : "Jacques Valmont" and read the accusation : "Repeated refusal to serve the Nation".
The Colonel spoke in nearly fatherly ways:
"Young man," (well he did not consider me as a "boy" like as his predecessor did) "as French citizen you owe your nation two years of military service. You received several letters about this, but you answered none of the summons. This is neither polite nor a proof of your sense of citizenship. Do you have anything to say as excuse ?"
"But, Colonel, I served my country during 7 years in the Foreign Legion."
"Can you prove that ?"
"Yes Colonel", and I produced the certificate I had received when I left the Legion.
The Colonel examined the certificate and started to whisper with the Captain and the NCO. He then asked:
"This concerns only a certain Karl Verbist, a Belgian who served the Legion without honor during 5 years."
"Colonel, Karl Verbist was my second Legion name and they decided to refuse me the ‘Good Conduct Certificate’ because I refused to sign another contract and become Sergeant, as they wanted it."
"If all this is true, why did you never answer the letters you received from the Army ?"
"Colonel, I have never been warned that I was wanted for my military service, which I would have done with pleasure had I known the situation."
The Captain now started to read several letters and added:
"All these summons have been sent to your official residence, your father’s home".
The Colonel spoke like a kind father and asked me:
"Do you realize what two years in a military prison mean ?"
"Colonel, I have already been put wrongfully in a military prison for 9 months. So I know what it means and I don’t want to repeat this."
The Colonel and the other Judges did not understand and asked for more details, so I told them my complete story. This included a precise description of my stay in the "Legion Disciplinary Section" and of all the abuses that were inflicted there. The three Judges seemed impressed and started again to whisper. Finally the Colonel concluded:
"Listen young man, technically there is a problem: for the law, you tried to dodge your military obligations. This court should sentence you as it usually does in these sad cases: two years in a military jail and then 2 years of military service, plus one additional year for the delay. We understand that you have served in uniform in the french Army, but under an assumed name. This Court cannot simply set you free. Considering the certificate you have shown us, the certificate you received from the Legion, and also considering everything you told us about your long time of service in the Legion, this Court suggests that you now enlist voluntarily for 5 years, which would be a nice job anyway, instead of going for 2 years in jail and serving for 3 years as simple Private."
"Colonel, I wanted to go back to school, but I ask this Court some time to think about your suggestion."
"Good ! This Court gives you 8 days to be enlisted."
"Colonel, in the Legion I was a paratrooper and I liked that even if I disliked the Legion, so I ask this Court to have the possibility to enlist in a para regiment."
There were more whispers among the judges and finally the Colonel stated:
"The Court decides that you are allowed to enlist in such a regiment without any punishment for your involuntary absence from military service, but the Court also decides that if you are not enlisted within 8 days, you will have to spend 2 years in a military jail and 3 years as Private in an artillery regiment. Corporal, call the next case."
I discussed lengthily with my mother and also with Linda. I realized that it was not reasonable to try to go to another country, as suggested by my mother: I wanted to stay in France and be married here with my best beloved. So the next day, I decided that it was reasonable for me, at my age, with no training for a good job, without any high school diploma, to accept the Colonel’s suggestion. I went to a recruitment center and enlisted in a paratrooper regiment. Less than one month later I was again in uniform. But this time, it was a uniform I had chosen, not one which had been imposed on me by a "dear father" and his friends. Moreover, the uniform was not completely green and the beret was red. I could also reasonably hope to get, during these 5 years, some red stripes and no longer the green ones the Legion had given me when I became Corporal there.
I had my head completely shaved, but that was done smoothly. I started serving with a certain pleasure. I was again busy with basic training and I made lots of friends. This "basic training" lasted three months and I was excellent for obvious reasons ! I also had several leaves and could easily communicate with my mother and with Linda.
After this came the specialized paratrooper training. I excelled again for the same obvious reasons. I hoped to be ranked best new recruit in order to get an immediate promotion to Paratrooper 1st Class. To my great surprise, and disappointment, the Colonel of my new regiment called another new para, told him to step forward and gave him his para wings and the distinction of 1st Class. Then all the other names were called, my comrades received their para wings and I was left as last one.
I did not like this, but I assumed that this was due to the fact that I had reported too late for my military service. To my great surprise, the Colonel finally called my name. I stepped forward to receive my para wings, like the others, but the Colonel said in front of all the others:
"Valmont, I have seen your complete file and I know that previously you received the rank of Corporal. Your file is excellent, so I don’t see why you should lose that rank." and the Colonel gave me Corporal stripes, but this time no longer the green stripes of the Legion, but the red stripes of the regular Army.
I was now Corporal in an excellent regiment: the 8 RPIMa. I lived there comfortably and had numerous leaves (more than in the Legion) which gave me opportunities to spend time with Linda. I had adopted a new haircut: a short High and Tight, having thus the sides completely clean but some hair on top of the head, below my beret. This left me enough hair to have an elegant look even on civvy streets during my leaves, but not enough hair to embarrass me under my beret or my helmet. I took great care to treat the paratroopers placed under his authority very well and very wisely: I never gave an order I would not have been able to perform myself. I had learned in the Legion what it meant to "lead men" as Corporal, I reproduced all this except, for the brutality used by Legion Corporals.
I was especially appreciated by my chiefs for the training of new recruits: I was never brutal with them because I hated the Legion way of training soldiers, but I explained the reasons for my orders in such a way that these young recruits knew what they were doing and why they were doing it. The men liked and respected me. I was also sent outside France, for some combats our government felt we had to accomplish. I was also good when I had to lead my soldiers in the combats France had in Africa to help the new governments of its former colonies. I realized later that I was doing more and more an NCO job than a plain Corporal one.
During one of my leaves, Linda and me got married. Linda was now a well known lawyer. We found a house close to my regiment and during another leave, we started a first baby. I now really liked my life and my job: I was thinking that after the end of my contract, I would ask to be allowed to sign another one, especially if the Army accepted to give me a pay rise.
But I was surprised when after two years of service in the paratrooper regiment, I was called in the Colonel’s office. The Colonel told him:
"I have seen your complete military file. In fact you served 7 years in the Legion, with only one period of military jail. In fact the Legion way of punishing you was illegal: you were still under the age of 18. So I decided to forget all about it. In my opinion, you have now 9 years of honorable service for the Army. So I decided to promote you now to Sergeant on the basis of time of service. Ready for that, Corporal ?"
I was surprised and said:
"Colonel, I am honored. But will I have to spend more time in the Army ?"
"Well, Corporal, your contract will be adapted. As Corporal, you have now 3 more years on your contract. If you accept to become Sergeant, it will be a new NCO contract. That will mean 5 years of service and not 3, but it will then be renewable which would not be the case for a plain Corporal contract. I know it means two more years in the military, which you could dislike after your forced enlistment in the Legion. But I know you don’t have your BAC : you missed a few weeks only, and that could stop you finding another job. So you can stay in the Army and take care of your family. And we need a person like you in this regiment, but as NCO more than as Corporal."
I accepted the Colonel’s offer with pleasure and with pride.
The next day, the Colonel solemnly took off my Corporal stripes and gave me Sergeant ones ! I was in big ceremony uniform for this event. Linda and my mother had been invited. My father had carefully been forgotten.
Presently, a Corporal is only the leader of a group of three. In those days, a Corporal was the leader of a group of 8. He was living and sleeping with the men he had to lead: there was a very close band between me and my men. As Sergeant I had to lead three groups of 8 men and I also had some administrative tasks. This was really exciting. I kept my short High and Tight and gave it as example to my men, but I never imposed it. In fact my young recruits preferred to have a complete head shave, which they administered to one another in order to avoid paying the regimental barber. They considered this as "more military" and also as "more manly". I let them do as they wanted.
A few days my promotion, the Colonel gave me the order to spend time and study at a distance for my BAC, which I got easily at the first occasion. I got my BAC with the mention "Very Good". The Colonel then told me to keep preparing myself for the admission exam to an officer school. I had to do that on top of my other training and now also administrative tasks. I knew that this was my best way to finally have a good position in this world, as good as my wife’s.
I passed brilliantly my admission exam and became Lieutenant after two more years of studies in a school specialized in training NCOs to become officers. I went back to my paratrooper regiment, remaining very close to the young soldiers I had to train and lead. Linda and me had now three children, a boy and two girls. We were very happy.
My father died before I became officer and nobody in the family regretted him. I wondered what he would have thought now. Maybe his nasty behaviour, when he forced me to join the Legion, had finally been a good move for me ?
In any case, I finished my career in the army as Lieutenant Colonel and head of my paratrooper regiment. According to army rules, I had to retire but I was still reasonably young. On my last day, as thanks for my career, I was promoted to full Colonel (retired) and thus got a better pension. I started a new career as grand father and as Linda’s legal assistant.