Have Beret, Will Travel
A character sketch of Paul “Caje” LeMay
“Encore une bouteille de cognac, s’il vous plaît,”
and other critical French phrases
If you could pick any guy to go through France with, you couldn’t make a better choice than Pfc. Paul LeMay. “Caje,” as everyone calls him, has simply an amazing amount of knowledge about that trés belle place, even though he’s never actually been there before. The amazing thing about France is that, in spite of the war, it still has a lot of, well, French people in it – endearing kids, stubborn farmers, little old winemakers, tricky mayors, mayors’ daughters (ooh la la!), nuns, priests, widows, barmaids, Resistance fighters … Just imagine the potential for international incidents if you don’t know the right way to drink cognac, for example, or if you duck from some dotty old general who’s trying to kiss you on both cheeks. And what’s a soldier to do the first time he has that most embarrassing of cultural exchanges – his initial encounter with a French bidet? Well, worry no more, brother. When it comes to learning the customs of dear old France, forget your G.I. Handbook – just follow the guy in the beret.
No doubt about it – Caje is one smart Cajun. Not only has he learned to ditch his backwater Louisiana accent for a fancy French-Canadian one, but somewhere, somehow, this man has learned to snow ski like an Olympic champion. I’ll bet that makes his amis in New Orleans proud. And well they should be. Besides being an outstanding soldier (who never seems to complain about having to take the point more than just about anyone else), he’s a connoisseur of the finer things in life, like good French mineral waters, cologne, fine French soap, i.e., the kind that doesn’t eat holes in your uniform, and, of course, cheese. No, not the gooey, machine-processed stuff that comes in a can (mon Dieu!), but genuine fromage, that of the 264 glorious varieties De Gaulle once bragged about. Needless to say, no self-respecting Frenchman would ever be caught dead sucking cheese off his finger, no matter what sort of oddly magnetic effect such behavior has on certain persons of the female persuasion. Watch how Caje eats cheese and you will see how the natives do it.
When Caje is not around, he sure is sorely missed. Kirby’s Français is atrocious (forget the girl in the café … it’s a wonder those French Resistance fighters don’t beat him up just for mauling their belle langue), and while Braddock can sing French opera, he can’t carry on a normal conversation even with a couple of eight year olds. When push comes to shove and you’ve got Germans hiding in a church cellar or an American deserter posing as a Frenchman or, worst of all, a bunch of creepy skull-carrying nuns who’ve taken a vow of silence and can only be addressed through their mother superior, there’s just no substitute for a man with savoir faire.
“Ôtez le crâne, sœur; nous avons besoin du docteur.” (“Put the skull away, sister – we need a doctor.”)
Think of all the handy French phrases and cultural tips the guys have learned from Caje. They know, for instance, how to sing lullabies in French to cute babies, how to apologize to distraught villagers for having wrecked their houses, how to spot German imposteurs disguised as friendly priests, how to properly wear those weird-looking wooden farmer’s clogs and, most important of all, how to make passes at pretty French lasses. You can bet that “Je t’aime, cherie!” is the one phrase Kirby has actually learned how to pronounce like a Parisian.
There is, in fact, only one thing wrong with Caje, and that is the fact that the warm heart, the handsome face and the flawless French are all wrapped up in the same package. This walking mademoiselle-magnet can charm nuns (both the creepy and the ditzy kind), feisty village femmes, middle-aged farm matrons, plucky Resistance fighter-ettes, and even the most doleful of orphan girls, almost as soon as he opens his mouth. Then, when he puts on that beret … sacrebleu! The other guys don’t stand a chance. Because everyone knows, you just can’t beat an homme with a great chapeau.
Copyright © 1998 by Dorothy Spangler. All rights reserved.
Characters from the television series COMBAT! are the property of ABC-TV.