Whatever we did, regardless of the risk, we had to do it. For my parents, it was automatic. For me also. We simply did it…Not every Frenchman had taken such chances.
The Second World War continues to preoccupy me. It isn’t entirely clear why. Partly I think it is the courage displayed, the resistance in France, the Holocaust, those who helped the Jews and those who didn’t. As a child I lived through the early part of the war in a house by the sea in Los Angeles. We worried about a Japanese invasion.
My reading isn’t focused or concerned with particular historical event or person. Rather, I chance upon news of an interesting book and begin reading it. So it was with an article, “The Real Girl in the Blue Beret,” that Bobby Ann Mason posted on the New Yorker Web site. She was writing a book about a downed American pilot who is rescued by members of the French Resistance, one of whom was a teenager wearing a blue beret
She wrote this woman in the hopes of meeting her, not know if she was still alive. Yes, she was, now well over 80, but still full of life and willing to talk about her experiences during the war. That is how I came to read Mason’s novel and how she transformed the wartime experiences of the aviator and the young resistance member into a work of fiction.
Marshall Stone is a retired American airline pilot who returns to France to meet the people who helped him cross over the Pyrenees and return to his bomber group in England. Annette is the teenage resistance fighter who was instrumental in his escape. Eventually he finds her, they unfold their respective histories, strike up a close relationship, and Marshall’s attempt to recapture this crucial part of his past comes full circle.
In the end, Annette answers the question I pose about every rescuer I read about:: Why did they incur such risks?
Whatever I did for you, I also did for myself, for my family, for France. We were crushed, Marshall. Defeated. You cannot know the shame. Whatever any of us did, we did for ourselves—so that we could have still a little self-respect. Just a little.