Danilo Pagliaro: The choice. My life in the Foreign Legion

Danilo Pagliaro, with Andrea Sceresini
Ed. Chiarelettere
pp. 220

We will not be altar boys, but we're not even ruthless killers doing dirty work for France. The Foreign Legion, in the first place, is a branch of the French Army that accepts the various nationalities. In this sense it is an aggregating body, here you are not white, black or yellow, you are not Catholic, Islamic or animist, you have a white kepì, you are a legionnaire.

For Danilo Pagliaro, explaining what the French Foreign Legion is and, above all, what it is not, therefore telling it without the myths and urban legends that come close to the term Légion étrangère, is a mission.

Mission reaffirmed in Rome, November 8, in the section of the National Paratroopers Association of Italy, ANPd'I, during the presentation of his second book, “La Scelta. My Life in the Foreign Legion ”, written with Andrea Sceresini. (the first, “Never be afraid”, became a best seller). Moderator of the presentation Raffaele Capoferro, vice president of the section, full of people of all ages, a tangible sign that the Foreign Legion is a topic of interest.

Danilo Pagliaro, 61, from Veneto, at 37 he enlisted in the Foreign Legion in France ... He has participated in many missions, including the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Central African Republic. Holds the degree of brigadier chef (corporal major chosen, ed). In a certain sense the book is autobiographical: the author cites episodes, anecdotes, stories experienced in the first person. But it is above all the biography of the Legion told through his experience, from the first day in Aubagne until today.

I do not hesitate to say that the contents of the first and of this second book are in line with the spirit of our association, that is, believing in certain things, not telling stories, doing one's duty and trying to do it well. This is the spirit that emerges from reading Danilo's books, that is, a downsizing of certain "mythological" aspects of the soldier that are not good, because they are not needed, because they create illusions in people who then feel they cannot do those things that then after all, they have never been made by anyone ... - the comment of the president of the Anpd'I section of Rome, Adriano Tocchi, introducing the author.

Among the memories mentioned by Pagliaro, the episode of the old woman who, when she sees him, with a lack of knowledge of French, in the 94 in Marseilles, understands that he is going to enlist and takes his face in his hands kissing him in the forehead, as a mother. Or in Africa, when it is to point the weapon on a passer-by, which could be one of the rebels who have just ambushed and luckily the order to shoot does not arrive, because that man is just a scared farmer who go in the wrong place and at the wrong time.

There are various episodes told in the book, all lived in first person, including the sharing camaraderie of being legionnaire.

I would like to emphasize, certainly not useful but I like to do it, that in order to find excellent and valiant officers, there is no need to come in the Foreign Legion ", continues Pagliaro. "The officers with the" square balls "are in the Foreign Legion as in the Armed Forces, they are in Italy and they are everywhere. I speak of my experience there but because 25 years are not in the Alpini or in the Folgore but are in Foreign Legion. If I had spent 25 years among the Alpini or in the Folgore - and this where I find myself is an association of paratroopers - I would still speak of very valid soldiers and others to forget, as there are everywhere.

Here I am Italian, there I am a legionnaire. The regulation of the Foreign Legion is the same as the French Armed Forces. Here discipline is really iron. In Legion the regulation regulation is so codified that it is called "tariff", the tariffs. Do not you have to move something and move it? The tarif is a week in the cell. And so on. And you know it.

The Legion was born on March 10, 1831. The rule for which a valid identification document must be delivered has been written since 1831. The problem is that, obviously, it cannot be denied that criminals have entered us, but the reality is not that the Foreign Legion wants them, that's the law. Today, even if you are an Italian or European citizen, they do not want an identity card but a passport, because it is more difficult to forge. Forty years ago, forging a document was much easier. Today it is no longer, identification is easy, an image is transmitted to the other side of the world in real time. So, surely there were dubious people in the Legion, but it was never the government's will to hide anyone, far from it.

I care about it. Because, in reality, it has never been true that one enters and disappears into the Foreign Legion. And I go further: for reasons that are proper to the Command, people have a declared identity, I myself was with another identity for some years (Pedro Perrini, ed.) But not because I had killed someone, but because in the Foreign Legion, is my example, you can enlist if you are celibate. Danilo Pagliaro was married. But after a few years I regained my true identity.

Pagliaro brings the evidence, to show what the Legion really is: the enlistment sheet, the document that certifies the taxes, the salary, etc. 

It is said that we are mercenaries: I am paid by the French Ministry of Defense, I am part of the Army, in the specialty of the Foreign Legion. The French Gendarmerie has our same paycheck. And I brought sheets that attest that we are not wanted by the police but rather work together.

The Foreign Legion is part of the French Armed Forces. It has a very wide freedom but within the rules. In Legion you can enlist up to 40 years, I had 37. I had proposed to be a non-commissioned officer and I did not want to. The author would have passed the retirement age, but every commander who arrives asks him to stay one more year. And there will be a reason. I'm still inside, in a somewhat intermediate position. At this point, despite being military, I can say what I think and I take responsibility for it. In my 25-year career, at any level of the command ladder, I have never heard people say “let's go”, but rather, “follow me”, from jogging in the morning to fighting. I am 61 years old. At the age of 55 in the Foreign Legion, you are retired, you cannot ask to stay one day longer. He is the commanding general who, in cases he decides, can propose to one of his legionaries to stay a few years longer.

The first absolute duty of us "old men" is to be an example. The young man must look at us and must see a legionnaire, or a paratrooper, anyway a soldier, who has the obligation to be such. And it is increasingly difficult. The institutions must be respected. We must respect our young people. We must respect that flag. And it takes respect for those who pay us and this is also valid in Italy. I am in a Foreign Legion but also in the Armed Forces. My salary is given by you, French, or Italian for the Italian FF.AA, by you who pay taxes. A soldier is paid with the taxes of the citizens. And he can not say "I'm tired" or "I'm sick": I repeat, it's my idea of ​​being a soldier, but I think you can not say "I'm old and I have a backache". Go home. Citizens do not tell you that they have a sick child and therefore do not pay taxes. And all this must be respected. And that's why, slowly, I'm coming out of the business too, because in reality you never leave this world. And this world is that of the military, but as I understand it. The Italian, French, paratrooper, knight, policeman, Iraqi, Afghan, etc, is sometimes the enemy, but the soldier is the soldier. The flag is different, the language is different, but the spirit is the same. We are all of that same pasta.

Giusy Federici