Walking nervously into my first interrogation, I came face to face with an American Vietnam veteran adjudant (warrant officer, master sergeant). Glancing at my university diploma, certificates and updated résumé, he verified dates and stuffed them back into a manila binder.
“Begin with the day you were born,” he said, sliding blank sheets of paper over to me, “and write down everything you've done until the moment you're sitting before me now.”
While describing graduating with a prestigious degree and embarking on a promising engineering career in the Windy City, I was interrupted and drilled for what seemed hours on every minuscule detail of my life.
“Siblings? Names and dates of birth? Do they have children? Does anybody know that you've joined the Foreign Legion? If so, what is their name and address? . . . Wait, but you said you were in Stockholm on 27 November 1996, did you not? . . . This Nadine you speak of, is she pregnant? Now tell me, why do you want to join.”
“I got tired of sitting in Chicago traffic every day, and because the Peace Corps is for wimps”
“Look,” he said warmly. “I've known men like you . . . What I'm trying to say off the record is that the Legion won't be what you expect. I'm here to help, maybe to keep you from making a mistake. You'll be holding a French passport after five years, but légionnaires take an oath to die for France.”
“The last place I'd want to die is behind a desk . . . or of an age-fifty heart attack while I'm sitting on the toilet.”