LeProjetImagine - Colonel Dufetel

Uploaded by leprojetimagine on 18.06.2012

My name is Pierre-André Dufetel,
born on 11 November 1922,
son of an architect and hero of the 1st World War
I was educated by the Jesuits in Boulogne-sur-Mer.
I am going to tell you the unbelievable story
of a boy from the country,
who was in no way destined to be special.
In 1939 I was in middle school,
and like any boy at that age I was fascinated by
the glorious feats of the flying heroes:
Guynemer, Mermoz and Saint-Exupéry,
as well as by Hollywood movies,
that show the accomplishments of cadets from West Point.
I was totally upset by the 1940 tragedy,
and vainly tried, on 18 June,
to join De Gaulle on a small boat with a motor,
but finally had to give up because I ran out of gas.
I went back to school at Camp d'Orsay in what is called "philosophy class",
I was deeply hurt by the fall of France
and by the presence of Nazis,
and I became very angry
when I learned that the Kommandantur
had forbidden any hommage
from being paid to the heroes of 1918,
on 11 November 1940.
I found out by word of mouth,
and decided to join
a group of my friends,
who had decided to demonstrate against the occupation,
so I went to the Champs Élysées avenue,
at around 5 in the afternoon.
We walked up the Champs Élysées avenue chanting : "Long live De Gaulle",
and singing our national hymn,
when suddenly dozens of covered trucks
came zooming onto the avenue,
full of German soldiers, with their bayonnettes secured,
throwing hand-grenades, shooting from machine guns,
they wounded 15 of us,
and locked up about 1000 demonstrators
in military prison 125
and carried out a fake execution.
I too was arrested by a German, but managed to escape
thanks to the surrounding chaos.
In fact I am sure that I broke
a world record that day, which was never logged.
I continued to study at the university,
but secretly joined my father
in the forbidden zone of the Pas-de-Calais facing England
which was bombed every day.
And since he was an officer of the Kléber network,
the resistance network, that kept the Allies informed
about movements in the port
and about troops present in the zone,
I helped him in his missions
until the day when unfortunately he was arrested by the Gestapo
and deported to Germany in September 1942.
I had to escape during the night
and searched in vain for an escape network
to join De Gaulle through Spain,
until finally I found a way.
After having travelled through France with a false ID,
travelling 5 days and 5 nights,
by train, by bicycle, and on foot,
I finally managed
in the night, at almost 3 000 meters altitude,
to cross the Pyrenees
and get to the other side,
but on that very same evening,
I was captured by Franco's troops,
and they threw me into the sordid prisons
of Barbastro, of Saragossa,
in the Miranda concentration camp,
where I lost 20 kg because of famine and dysentery.
I only survived
thanks to the Red Cross,
they managed to get me over
into liberated North Africa,
in exchange for a quintal of wheat,
which they gave to Franco,
who was in terrible need of food for his population.
Through Malaga and Gibraltar,
I got to Casablanca,
where we were welcomed like heroes,
as having succeeded
in escaping from occupied France
and in coming to strengthen the liberation army.
We were moved to tears upon hearing our hymn, the Marseillaise
which we hadn't heard in 3 years.
And that that point the recruiting sergeants of the 2nd Armored Division,
and the aviation commandos
were trying to attract
these new volunteer fighters,
who seemed highly motivated,
and were therefore valuable.
As for myself, having dreamed about aviation so long,
I suddenly saw a door opening up I had never dared to hope for
and I chose aviation.
Now, the only possible way
to access military pilot status,
was through the United States of America and its military Academies,
that were selecting young Frenchmen,
who appeared to them to be both intellectually and physically apt
to undergo the different tests
until the final goal.
I was selected and left for the United States
in an isolated boat surrounded by all the submarines
that were floating all over the Atlantic,
and once I got there training began.
The program was very clear:
In these new West Point type schools
for aeronautics that were built from scratch after Pearl Harbor,
the Americans implemented a theory
that is ruthlessly efficient.
Courses are divided into 3 schools:
primary, basic and advanced,
after which the survivors got their silver wings.
The whole principle
is to eliminate, one after the other,
anyone who was not up to par.
Each instructor in each school
started out with 5 students,
knowing that he could only promote 2 or 3 of them
to the next school.
This implies that about
half of the students would be eliminated.
So for me, primary went very well.
I was let loose, precise landing,
And then I was sent to the second school,
which is the first step toward the school for fighter pilots.
It was located in Gunter Field,
in Alabama, because of the climate.
But there we were in the tropics, in August,
and the summer heat
was very tough on a boy from the North.
The new aircraft was heavy and cumbersome.
The instructor hated the French
and had decided that I would be one of the first he'd get rid of.
So he dealt with me
in what they called the elimination procedure,
which consists in passing it up the chain of authority
until the final step which is the elimination board
chaired by the Colonel commanding the base,
who always decided to follow the opinion of his officers.
So they forbade me to fly, but not to take classes.
And it was during one of these classes,
exhausted by the schedule from 6 AM to 10 PM,
and by the heat,
that I fainted.
I had to be evacuated,
and appear before the elimination board.
The Colonel announced, as he always did:
"You have been eliminated ",
and as a pure formality, he asked me if I had any questions.
I simply asked:
"Does the Board believe that a boy my age,
"who is capable of fainting at the Graham school
"is capable of flying?"
The Colonel turned to his neighbors.
And at that point, my French Detachment Commander,
Lieutenant Mignot spoke up
and spoke in my defense,
he explained everything I had gone through
since the year 1940, before I got here,
with the Gestapo, the arrests, imprisonment...
And requested that exceptionally
I be granted 3 weeks rest
and to be transferred to the next Detachment.
The Board, and this was very rare,
in fact it only happened twice out of thousands of cases,
authorized me to move on to the next Detachment,
but under close surveillance.
Thankfully, the benevolence of Captain Phillips Barn,
who was the American Commander of the next detachment,
enabled me to pass,
without further problems,
all the different tests,
that continued at the same pace as before.
And I wish to pay tribute to both these men
namely: Lieutenant Mignot and Captain Phillips Barn,
who, beyond the strictly applicable military rules
showed some humanity
a warm attitude,
and enabled me to demonstrate what I was capable of doing.
I did not disappoint them
since after that I was able
to pass all the very difficult tests,
that took place both at Gunter and at Craigfield.
And after about 235 flying hours I finally received
my beautiful silver wings
thanks to which I was then sent on
to the advanced school for fighter pilots.
We got back to Europe,
and that is where I was called
to follow in Saint-Exupéry's footsteps
flying a Lightning P-38,
which is the most beautiful fighter plane in that war,
a twin-engine single-seater
with 3500 HP,
capable of carrying out absolutely any mission.
So I flew in this unit
on intercontinental raids, flying alone,
6 000 kilometers,
from Germany to the Sudan.
For instance, for the first time I flew over
all of Western Sahara in a fighter single-seater.
That was the first time in history,
that Western Sahara was crossed without a stopover.
Our mission then was
to draw the map of unknown Black Africa,
because General De Gaulle had announced the decolonization process
for our African territories,
But they would have to have something to live on.
And to give them something to live on, we had to give them maps
so they would know where the rivers, and the forests were located,
where they could build railroads...
And since the National Geographical Institute did not have a plane,
this group of pilots
from unit 1-33 with their single-seaters
were given the task of handling the problem.
If I look back
at what was the thread
running through everything I did
during that period,
I believe it could be summarized in three words:
a taste for taking risks and for innovation,
and then the duty to excel
and the obligation to produce results,
this is what supported me throughout my entire career.
Everything our generation did
was conditioned by the tragic circumstances
that France had suffered.
But what is important for you
and for each of the following generations,
is a commitment to a great ideal,
whether it be humanitarian, or in culture or sports,
to benefit France
and put a damper on people's selfishness.
Everyone comes face to face with their own 18 June 1940.
This is the message of a senior to his grandchildren.