The French Foreign Legion and Indochina in Restrospect by Michael Kaponya

At the end of World War II Michael Kaponya was a Hungarian refugee with few prospects. So he joined the French Foreign Legion, that fabled mercenary military force founded in 1831 by King Louis Philippe. Led by French officers, the Legion is open to volunteer foreigners to serve under the French flag.

Kaponya’s The French Foreign Legion and Indochina in Retrospect (Tate Publishing, 144 pp., $14.99, paper) is a respectful memoir dedicated to the memory of his French Foreign Legion comrades. Kaponya describes his screening and induction, his experiences in North Africa, and—most importantly—his service in Indochina during the French war from 1949-52.

The Legionnaires learned tough lessons of guerrilla warfare in a terrain and climate to which they were unaccustomed. Ultimately, Kaponya realized, the French were limited to “incursions by small units and control of major highways and waterways.” Even that control was tenuous at best.

Michael Kaponya

Kaponya’s reminiscences often are as tender as they are horrific. There’s no mistaking his pleasure and pride in having been a Legionnaire. He left Indochina in 1952, two years before Dien Bien Phu, and completed his service in Algeria and Marseilles. Then Kaponya immigrated to the United States.

In addition to personal recollections of this historically important time, Kaponya offers political analyses of the period following the Second World War, especially the events in Vietnam and Algeria. Kaponya summarizes his position succinctly:

“The Foreign Legion left Indochina due to pressure from a leftist government and communists, the U.S. Army left Vietnam due to incessant far-left-instigated pressure and demonstrations, and the Foreign Legion, after victory, had to retreat from Algeria due to leftist political reasons.”

—Michael Keating