Hélie Denoix de Saint Marc was born on February 11, 1922 at Bordeaux.
In February 1941, aged 19, he joined the Resistance. He became a member of the Jade-Amicol network, where he served till July 14, 1943, when he was arrested, upon denunciation, at the Spanish border.
He was sent to the Buchenwald concentration camp, and subsequently transferred to the Langenstein-Zwieberge sub-camp where prisoners lived and worked under appalling conditions. They spent twelve hours each day digging airtight underground galleries. Six weeks was the lifespan of inmates in this hell of a camp. Hélie de Saint Marc, thanks to the support and advice of a Latvian miner, managed to survive the ordeal. On April 13, 1945, when the camp was liberated by American troops, the dying 23-year-old Frenchman was one of the 30 survivors of a convoy of 1,000 prisoners.
Upon repatriation to France, he recovered and entered the Saint-Cyr military academy.
In 1948, Hélie de Saint Marc left for Indochina with the 3rd foreign infantry regiment. Assigned to a post near the Chinese border, he immediately got used to this type of war thanks to his human qualities and the sincere interest he exhibited towards Vietnamese partisans and Viet-minh prisoners. After eighteen months, he was evacuated, and, at the order of the high command, had to abandon the villagers to their lot. This caused a wound in his mind that never stopped bleeding. In 1951, Hélie de Saint Marc returned to Indochina within the 1st Foreign Parachute Battalion and took over the command of the Indochina 2nd Foreign Legion Parachute Company, which was mainly composed of Vietnamese. He recounted the ordeals he went through then in the following words:
"The battles I fought from 1950 to 1953 in Vietnam were of a degree of fierceness and violence I never witnessed again throughout my entire military career.
That was when I understood Winston Churchill’s statement: “When I was young, war appeared to be painful and funny to me.
Now, it still appears to be as painful as before, but I know it is abominable.
Sometimes, we have the impression that it was a nightmare that will be over when we wake up.
Those who claim to like war certainly fought it miles away from the butchery of battle fields, from the scene of scattered bodies and disembowelled women.
War is absolute evil. There is no joyful or sorrowful war, no clean or dirty war.
War entails bloodshed, suffering, burnt faces, fever-stricken eyes, rain, mud, excrement, filth,
rats scurrying over bodies, terrible injuries, women and children transformed into rotting corpses.
War humiliates, brings shame, and degrades. It is the horror of the world characterized by the highest degree of filth, blood, tears, sweat and urine.
The emergence of danger, the stepping on these grounds, where death is on the prowl, demands heaving oneself up to the highest point their being.
When all can crash in one second, man is nothing.
And there is nothing he can do than be a man."
During the Algerian war, Major Hélie de Saint Marc served in the 1st parachute regiment. When the military putsch broke out, in April 1961, he was one of those who had to choose between honour and discipline. Thanks to his previous experience in Indochina, he refused the harkis’ abandonment and opted to join the four generals, Challe, Salan, Jouhaud and Zeller, in support of French Algeria. A few days later, he was captured and sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment in the Tulle prison. In 1966, he was notified of his pardon, and in 1978, his civil and military rights were restored.
Hélie de Saint Marc, who was barely 44 then, started a civilian life. He became personnel manager of a metalworking industry group, and held the post for over two decades. He subsequently became a lecturer and published several books, notably: Les champs de braise - Mémoires - Les Sentinelles du soir, Indochine notre guerre orpheline - Notre Histoire 1922/1945 - Toute une vie. The writer Laurent Beccaria wrote his biography entitled: Hélie de Saint Marc.
Grand Officer of the Legion of Honour, Major Hélie de Saint Marc is holder of the Overseas Operations (T.O.E.) war cross, the military valour cross, the Resistance volunteer servicemen cross and several other awards.
Mr de Saint Marc, what would you say to the youths of today?
I would tell them that life is a wonderful adventure,
that they should believe in it, but must not forget that it is also a battle
and that they have to roll their own stone till the last minute.
I would tell them that nothing comes easy, that nothing goes for nothing,
that everything must be worked for and earned
and that, no sacrifice, no achievement.
I would tell them that however absurd the world might appear to be,
they must not fail to see the secret generosity, the nobleness,
the mysterious yet miraculous beauty of life.
I would tell them that they should discover the stars that guide us,
when we are enveloped by the darkest of night;
that they should discover the sacred vibration of invisible things.
I would tell them that everyman, everywoman,
has his or her nobility, his or her own dignity
and that it is important to respect it.
I would tell them that they should believe in the future of their own country.
I would tell them that, among all virtues, the one I consider supreme
is courage which entails holding steadfast on to one’s youthful dream.
I would tell them that to exhibit such courage,
is perhaps what gives life its honour.