Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The French Foreign Legion

Finally the high brass moved us out of our defunct Tunisian base and shipped us to Casablanca. It took a bit of adjusting, but we obtained new uniforms and new equipment and ate in a well prepared mess hall. This beautiful city was spread across a hillside and overlooked the Atlantic. One day my commanding officer, Capt. Thomas Cloward informed me that he and I would be going to Rabat, about 20 miles north, to review the French Foreign Legion. We would join General Cannon, who was the top commander in our area, and other officers. All I knew about the Foreign Legion was a movie that I had once seen. But when we got there it was an impressive sight. There were 500 white Arabian horses who had been chosen so they all looked alike. And there were 500 troopers dressed the same. It was the greatest calvary in the world. The troopers and their mounts passed in front of our reviewing stand in an impressive formation. I had ridden horses most of my life, but in the ranch country of Texas. There was a lull in the program and it was then that Capt. Cloward volunteered me to ride with the Legion. He informed General Cannon that I was a great horseman. This was true in the ranch country but here it was different. But I was stuck. A French officer was summoned and quickly agreed to furnish me with a mount. When I was handed the reins to this horse, I realized that the saddle was next to nothing. I mounted and rode off. In Texas we neck reined out horses, that is we trained them to respond to a tug across the neck. And we used a straight bit in the mouth. But the French Legion used what I thought were cruel bits, joined in the middle, and a pull on the reins which was able to draw blood. However, the horses had been trained to respond instantly and they responded to my pull without faltering. I seated myself and rode out into an open space and did a few turns and twists and galloped a bit and pulled down to a trot. Then, feeling sure that I had control of my mount, I broke into a run and headed for the reviewing stand. Right in front of this stand I pulled my horse up sharply and turned a somesault out of the saddle and landed on my feet with the reins in my hand. It had been three or four years since I had done this maneuver, but I was lucky and it went off well. I handed the reins to the trooper and saluted the officer and returned to the reviewing stand. Capt. Cloward was pleased and General Cannon congratulated me. A few years after World War II (my war) the French Foreign Legion was disbanded. It was a sad day, but the calvary had been rendered obsolete by the mechanization of the military. The German general, Rommel, was one of those who had mechanized the army and it was a major development. In the Air Force, that also changed the way bombers were used. It was a case of learning the hard way.

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