The French Foreign Legion looks for brave men from around the world to fill their ranks. When you cast a net that wide, you’re bound to catch some pretty awesome soldiers. Here are seven of the most decorated and vaunted members of the Legion:
French Foreign Legion Capt. Jean Danjou was a veteran of three wars, an amputee, and an all-around pimp when he slapped the crap out of Mexican infantry with his prosthetic hand.
(French Foreign Legion Museum)
Capt. Jean Danjou was a French Army officer and veteran of fighting in Algeria when he volunteered for legion duty in 1852. He later fought in the Siege of Sevastopol where he lost his left hand — but his greatest heroism was still before him.
Danjou was a staff officer in Mexico in 1863 when he volunteered to lead a guard force of only 65 legionnaires on a convoy deeper into the country. When the unit was ambushed by nearly 2,000 Mexican soldiers, Danjou ordered his men into an abandoned nearby farmhouse where they fought to nearly the last man, inflicting 300 casualties. Danjou was killed, but his prosthetic hand is still kept in reverent storage by the Legion, which parades it on the anniversary of the battle.
Sometimes called the “Swallow of Death,” Eugene Bullard distinguished himself as an infantryman, a fighter pilot, and a spy.
(U.S. Air Force)
Eugene Jacques Bullard
After his father was lynched in Georgia in 1903, a young Eugene Bullard decided to move to France. He worked for ten years to earn his passage and made it to France just in time for World War I. He enlisted in the Legion on the day he was of legal age, 19 years old.
He fought on the front lines of France and was twice in units that took so many losses that they had to be combined with other forces. In March, 1916, Bullard was with a group of men hit by an artillery shell, killing four and knocking out most of Bullard’s teeth. He volunteered to keep fighting and was hit by artillery again three days later. This time, a thigh injury ended his service on the ground and in the Legion.
But the young hero wasn’t done. He would go on to become the first Black fighter pilot, netting his first aerial kill in late 1917. When World War II rolled around, Bullard served as a spy until he was injured while resisting the German advance on Orleans in 1940. In 1954, he went to Paris as one of the military heroes invited to relight the Eternal Flame of the Tomb of the Unknown French Soldier at the Arc de Triomphe.
John F. Hasey
Known as the “only American in the Free French Forces,” John F. Hasey served in World War II. He transferred into the Legion from an American ambulance unit that he helped form. He was made an officer and served with distinction at the Battle of Enghiahat, where he took command after his captain and first lieutenant were injured. He “patrolled without stopping” for three days, according to his award citation.
He later led his platoon at Massawa against numerous enemy positions, capturing them and a “large number of prisoners.” He was severely wounded near Damascus by machine gun fire, taking rounds to his hand, chest, arms, and face. Still he worked to get his men a new officer to lead them while heading to the aid station. While recovering, he received a letter from Gen. Charles de Gaulle, telling him that he would be the first American to receive the Croix de la Libération.
Prince Dmitri Amilakhvari eschewed a comfortable life in the countryside for a tough existence as a legionnairre. He later wrote a book about his service, mostly in Morrocco.
Prince Dmitri Amilakhvari
A Georgian Prince, Dmitri Amilakhvari joined the Legion in 1926 and saw action in South Morocco in 1933 and 1934. When World War II began, he went to Norway and worked with British forces to resist the German invasion there, fighting at Bjervick and Narvik, netting him the Norwegian War Cross with Sword.
After France fell, Amilakharvi reported for duty with the Free French Forces and was deployed to Eritrea and Syria before being named lieutenant colonel and commander of the Legion’s 13th Demi-Brigade. He led that force in Libya as part of the coalition fighting Rommel’s drive towards the ports in 1942. He was awarded the Ordre de la Libération for his actions there, but died later that year at the Battle of El-Alamein. He posthumously received the Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur, the only award higher than his Ordre de la Libération.
A celebrated football star and coach, Bluenthal volunteered for the ambulance services and the Lafayette Flying Corps before America joined World War I.
(North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources)
Arthur Bluenthal was a wealthy son of German immigrants and a successful football coach when he volunteered for ambulance duty in France. He served in Verdun before heading to the Balkans where he earned the Croix de Guerre for his “indefatiguable ardor and ignoring of danger” while driving to and from the front on a road under artillery bombardment.
He later transferred to the Lafayette Flying Corps, an aviation unit in the Legion. He was a bomber pilot cited for bravery. In early 1918, he made the decision to transfer to an American unit as soon as they joined active fighting or his French unit took a break from the front. On June 5, he was killed in French service after four German fighters spotted him and his artillery spotter surveying German positions. He was awarded the Croix de Guerre with Palm.
Alex Rowe was a British child when an injury — a detached retina — prevented him from achieving his lifelong dream of joining the British Forces. He tried anyway, but was turned away. He later joined the Foreign Legion with his mother’s blessing. Funnily enough, he was made a sniper.
Rowe was awarded his fifth medal for bravery in 2010, France’s highest military honor, the Légion d’honneur. He has been awarded for shielding a Bosnian mother and child with his body during a gunfight, and was involved in a 360-degree ambush in Afghanistan where U.S. troops and French legionnaires had to fight their way out.
Ferdinand Capdevielle was a private first class in the Legion when he took part in the charge on Navarin Farm in the Battle of Champagne, fighting that saw two-thirds of his section killed or wounded. Then, he accepted a transfer to the 170th Line Infantry Regiment, a unit that was soon sent to Verdun. Capdevielle was quickly awarded the Croix de Guerre for his coolness under fire while serving as a dispatch-bearer in the Battle of Caillette Wood.
Capdevielle was cited for bravery multiple times in multiple battles over the following year, eventually rising to the rank of second lieutenant. The American Army offered him a commission as a captain, but the legionnaire preferred to stay with French Forces. He led his men during the wildly successful advance on the Marne in July 1917, seizing miles of territory, hundreds of prisoners, and tons of supplies. He was posthumously awarded the Légion d’honneur after his death in October, 1918.