A poignant World War II saga of the relationship between an American gunner shot down over France and the French family who helped him.
In his latest, Military History editor-in-chief Harding (Dawn of Infamy: A Sunken Ship, a Vanished Crew, and the Final Mystery of Pearl Harbor, 2016, etc.) tells the story of Joe Cornwall, who was part of the joint American and British group targeting Le Bourget airport near Paris on Bastille Day 1943. A horrendous collision sent Cornwall and some other survivors parachuting into the French countryside to spend months evading capture by the Germans. By a remarkable stroke of luck—and the help of kindly French people—Cornwall and a few of his buddies were directed to the shelter of the concierges of the famed Hôtel des Invalides in Paris, the home of invaluable works of art as well as famous tombs such as that of Napoleon. In the vast subterranean maze of the hotel, Georges Morin, a disabled veteran of World War I with a hatred for the Germans—along with his wife, Denise, and adult daughter, Yvette—sheltered several of the Allied soldiers. Harding gradually builds the suspense regarding the blossoming love between Cornwall and Yvette with nicely specific details of life in the Army and in occupied Paris. Eventually, the urgency of making the “home run” back to base in England required most of the survivors of the group to take the perilous route through Spain and the Pyrenees to Gibraltar. Ultimately, Cornwall did make the route home, somewhat later than his comrades, having secured an engagement with Yvette. Little did he know the perils that the Morins would face when they fell into the hands of the Gestapo.
An engaging human story of the complicated and fraught relationship between the French and their American Allies.