They are one of the most colourful and enigmatic military force in the world. Though an integral part of the French Army, they are unique in that they have no French citizens serving. Soldiers generally surrender their passports on volunteering, and assume a different identity. Even French citizens who wish to sign up are required to assume a foreign identity.
This clause has often been put to use in the past. Many gentlemen for whom things became a little too warm in their home countries quietly sidled over to the Legion and disposed off their "Wanted" identities. The legion got a reputation as a haven for criminals of all descriptions, from political activists to rapists and murderers. This is no longer the case today, though. The Legion performs a thorough background check on all volunteers and DO NOT admit criminals, though the word on the street is that they are willing to overlook minor crimes.
Despite this, they are extremely loyal to France and French interests. They have a reputation of being among the bravest fighting force in the world, and would fight till the last man was standing. There is the oft repeated story of how 67 men faced 2000 enemies in Mexico. The standoff lasted for a day, and their numbers were reduced to just 5. At this point, the five men affixed bayonets to their rifles and charged! Incredible!
The legion was formed in the earlier half of the nineteenth century to protect French interests abroad. Algeria was generally considered the home of the Legion, and they were based out of there until the fall of the French colonial empire. They have fought in numerous wars across Spain, Mexico, Prussia, northern Africa and both World Wars. More recently, the Legion was active in Bosnia and the Gulf War.
Their distinctive uniform comprises red-and-green epaulettes, a blue sash and the unique hat called a "Kepi Blanc". The cylindrical, beaked hat is to be earned, much like stripes; the enlisted man only gets to wear a beret. A kerchief is also often worn with the Kepi Blanc to prevent sunburn at the back of the neck. The Kepi Blanc-with-Kerchief is the distinguishing mark of the Legionnaire.
The legionnaires have a code of honour, which must be recited at the investiture when they are awarded the Kepi Blanc.
- Legionnaire, you are a volunteer serving France with honour and fidelity.
- Every legionnaire is your brother-in-arms regardless of his nationality, race, or religion. You will demonstrate this by the strict solidarity which must always unite members of the same family.
- Respectful of traditions, devoted to your leaders, discipline and comradeship are your strengths, courage and loyalty your virtues.
- Proud of your status as legionnaire, you display this in your uniform which is always impeccable, your behaviour always dignified but modest, your living quarters always clean.
- An elite soldier, you will train rigorously, you will maintain your weapon as your most precious possession, you are constantly concerned with your physical form.
- A mission is sacred, you will carry it out until the end respecting laws, customs of war, international conventions and, if necessary, at the risk of your life.
- In combat, you will act without passion and without hate, you will respect the vanquished enemy, you will never abandon your dead or wounded, nor surrender your arms.
Interesting is the last clause, which says that they must never surrender their arms. Maybe it would be prudent to do so... you do live to fight another day, get another chance to serve the legion.
That aside, I have often wondered, at difficult and trying times in my life, if I should just throw it all aside and volunteer for the legion. A new life, a new start and an opportunity to not repeat the mistakes of this one. While very romnatic, it remained just a dream. A pipe dream even, since I am surely too old to volunteer now.