If you do something you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. Money’s not that important; leading an interesting life is. West Point. Serving in the Infantry with some of the best soldiers in the world. Spending 12 years walking battlefields in Europe. Visiting 35 countries and quaffing a cold beer at the Khyber Rifles officers’ club in the Khyber Pass; sipping a brew at Ipanema Beach in Rio De Janeiro; and encountering a “French 75” (named for a cannon, not me) cocktail at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris, where Ernest Hemingway used to hold court.
Shooting and analyzing some of the finest weapons in the world (Many are discussed in the S,W &T). Writing mysteries and immersing myself in battles such as The Little Bighorn, Verdun in World War I, and in the war that will interest me forever, World War II, with Stalingrad, Kursk, Normandy, Hürtgen Forest, Battle of the Bulge, and Remagen.
Meeting actual historical figures like Simon Wiesenthal, Martin Steglich (he briefed Hitler and then had supper with him, along with Martin Bormann, Generals Wilhelm Keitel and Alfred Jodl, and Dr. Theodor Morell, one of Hitler’s doctors.) And listening to Heinz-George Lemm (who looked and spoke like Sir Laurence Olivier) who had a cup of coffee next to Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, shortly before that officer planted the bomb at the Wolf’s Lair headquarters near Rastenburg on July 20, 1944; Lemm was interrogated the rest of the day and night by the Gestapo. Spending hours with Sergeant Tom Ward, supply sergeant at the Loire Disciplinary Training Center who witnessed a dozen hangings of US soldiers by Master Sergeant John Woods, and then drank beer with him downtown! And then the nieces of Sergeant Woods who recalled that he could take a puff on a cigarette and blow the smoke out his ears.
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. had fought at Hamburger Hill as an enlisted man; David Petraeus, who went on to four stars, a command of Iraq and Afghanistan and 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!
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. 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, Heinz-Georg Lemm, a former colonel from that war and later a general in the Bundeswehr, invited French and Olga to Martin’s 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, French 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 his rendezvous with a cold beer at Landi Kotal. 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 complex events. He also was frequently invited to go with the commander, General Montgomery Meigs, on battle staff rides to 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 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. 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, 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. Never give up on the things you like to do, and living life with your family and friends. And don’t forget to read a good book. Your imagination when reading can paint a better picture than all the high-def screens and any amount of pixels per inch.