Colonel French MacLean, U.S. Army (Ret.) is at it again – finishing up Waffen-SS Tiger Crews at Kursk, a study of over 200 Waffen-SS tank crewmen at the most significant tank battle of World War II. It often seems that he has gone from one historical enigma to another, and writing them for an audience of fellow “history travelers.”
It’s always been that way – one adventure after another. Born in Peoria, Illinois, the son of an infantry corporal who had fought in the Hürtgen Forest and the Battle of the Bulge, French chose the “road less traveled” and entered West Point in 1970, to pursue his dream of becoming an Army officer. It was a tough, but rewarding, four years, and he has been thankful he went ever since. One of the best features of the academy is the group of classmates you meet. Keith Alexander, who was one of the smartest guys in the class, became the director of the National Security Agency; Jack Pattison, our class First Captain; David Petraeus, who went on to four stars, a command of Iraq and Afghanistan and as the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency; and Martin Dempsey, who served as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were all his classmates of 1974. French was in plebe boxing with Marty and the instructors always made fun of his last name, as that was the same as the old heavyweight champion, Jack Dempsey. So they put him in with classmates who were much bigger and taller, but Marty never went down. French never boxed Marty, but he did get a broken nose in the ring!
As an Army infantry officer, Second Lieutenant MacLean spent three years in Germany. Having no car, but able to speak German, he would take a train every free weekend to visit various battlefields in Europe, an activity he has continued to this day. He also served as an armored cavalry troop commander in the 1st Squadron of the 1st Cavalry Regiment in the 1st Armored Division. During his career, he would spend twelve years in Germany. After attending the School for Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth, he served in combat in the 5th Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment in the 3rd Armored Division on “Operation Desert Storm” in 1991 and deployed again to the Middle East on “Operation Iraqi Freedom” in 2003, finally ending up in Baghdad.
Just before “Desert Storm,” French’s great friend Martin Steglich, a former infantry lieutenant colonel in the German Army in World War II and a former colonel in the Bundeswehr invited French and Olga to his 75th birthday party, a Rhine River cruise, and a Knight’s Cross reunion. Oberst (Colonel) Steglich had been the recipient of the Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves during the war and introduced him to almost one hundred of these award recipients, who regaled French with some amazing stories from the war.
During his career, he served as the battalion commander for the 1st Battalion, 29th Infantry, as the Inspector General (IG) for the U.S. Army in Europe and as a Course Director, National War College, in Washington, DC. During the latter, he visited Pakistan, India, Brazil, Argentina, Egypt, Jordan and Israel. In Pakistan, he flew in a rickety old Russian helicopter through the Khyber Pass to the headquarters of the Khyber Rifles at Landi Kotal, where he fought the heat by quaffing down a cold beer. In Jordan, he was able to visit King Abdullah II and get a royal tour of his study that houses the world’s premier collection of German Luger pistols – more adventures.
Being the IG was a watershed moment. He really learned how to search through records, interview observers and get to the bottom of some complex events. He also was frequently invited to go with the commander, General Montgomery Meigs, on battle staff rides to places such as the Battle of the Bulge and the Hürtgen Forest. French already knew the history, but General Meigs showed him how the history could teach not only today’s generals, but also how leaders of businesses and organizations could learn from those events of the past.
After retiring from the Army in 2004, at a ceremony attended by close Army and Navy friends that was conducted on “Last Stand Hill” at the Little Bighorn Battlefield, he tried homeland security consulting in Washington, DC. The money was good, but there was no adventure in it, so he and his wife, Olga – herself a former Army officer – moved back to the Midwest. Then French partnered with his old friend Jack Pattison to teach businesses and government organizations how to conduct long-rang planning and how to make timely and effective decisions, saving those organizations time, while reducing their expenses and increasing their profits. A half-day seminar followed by a half-day practical exercise where they and the students apply the process to a decision faced by that company/organization has helped a lot of groups. The venture has proven quite successful and resulted in trips around Florida, Georgia and Illinois. They even use a teaching scenario about the Titanic and making key decisions, which the students loved!
Now, French and Olga’s old brick Tudor home serves as a base for their travels, as well as providing a perfect environment in which to write. At any point in the year, French can be found at home working on his next book, on the road teaching with Jack, visiting the Little Bighorn and other battlefields, fishing and drinking coffee in Puerto Rico, hunting with his Army buddies or serving as a luggage-Sherpa for Olga, as she leads out on her own adventures.
So join us on an adventure, whether that’s looking through the web site, reading one of the books, or just sending French an Email if you ever have a historical question – so that you can go on adventures of your own!
And remember. Don’t let this virus beat you. Take precautions, but don’t give up on the things you like to do and living life with your family and friends. And don’t forget to read. Nobody ever got sick from reading a good book.