Topic: The Field of Battle
Reinforcing Dien Bien Phu
The Damned Die Hard, Hugh McLeave, 1973
But for every man lost [at Dien Bien Phu], the French had two or three volunteers stepping forward to take his place. Lieutenant Colonel Maurice Lemeunier, with a safe Hanoi billet, heard that his friend Gaucher had died. He went to General Cogny, in charge of the Dien Bien Phu operation in Hanoi. "Mon ge'ne'ral, I'm the oldest legionnaire in Tonkin. Gaucher's place should come to me."
"But Lemeunier, if I said yes, how do we get you there?"
"Why, you don't know one end of a parachute from the other."
Nevertheless, Lemeunier jumped—and at night with only a flare to indicate the dropping zone. And Staff Captain Jean Pouget left his safe seat in General Navarre's headquarters to take his first jump. And hundreds of others, including Sergeant Chief Janos Valko, a legendary Hungarian NCO, made their first parachute jump in the dark. De Castries, now a general, Langlais, Lemeunier, and Major Vadot were playing bridge in the "Subway" (nickname for the headquarters tunnel system) when a thump shook the roof. "That one didn't go off," said Vadot, who had been in Gaucher's dugout. They heard footsteps crunch; a giant legionnaire appeared, still entangled in the chute he was wearing for the first time. Unabashed by all the gold braid, he accepted and drank half a pint of Vinogel from the general. Those first-time paratroopers revised military thinking about airborne operations. More than seven hundred dropped and had no more broken bones than the 2,300 regular paratroopers who jumped alongside them. One had a harrowing experience; after crash-landing in the dark, he groped for his bearings; his fingers encountered one icy face, then another. He had landed in the morgue. It took half a pint of brandy to bring him around.