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A quiet American hero

Dr. Rene Joyeuse: born Jan 17, 1920, died June 12, 2012

August 15, 2012
By CLYDE RABIDEAU - Special to the Adirondack Daily Enterprise

Rene Veuve, a 24-year-old American spy, born in Switzerland and fluent in four languages, parachuted to the outskirts of Chartres, France, on a moonless night with orders to gather crucial intelligence about German military installations, supply depots and troop movements so the allies could bombard them before D-Day.

During this secret mission, he and his radio man shot their way out of a house surrounded by the German SS, having been betrayed by a Nazi collaborator. With only a .45-caliber pistol in hand, he barely escaped capture, took a bullet in the leg and continued gathering invaluable intelligence on the Germans.

He was given the name "Joyeuse" as an alias by the OSS - the United States Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to the CIA. The French word means "happy," the same name Charlemagne the Great gave his sword. It is also the family name Rene adopted permanently after the war, perhaps because he was indeed happy to come out of it alive.

Article Photos

The Joyeuse family, from left: Rene, Remi, Marc-Jerome and Suzanne
(Photo courtesy of the Joyeuse family)

For his service to the Allies, Capt. Rene Joyeuse was decorated with many medals and citations, foremost among them the Distinguished Service Cross, draped by Gen. Dwight David Eisenhower, second in magnitude only to the Congressional Medal of Honor in the United States. France gave him its highest military honor, the Legion D'Honneur-Chevalier, and along the way during his astonishing wartime tenure he received the Order of the Million Elephants from Laos - what was then called French Indochina and which included Cambodia and Vietnam.

He went to Indochina after World War II ended and fought and spied in its jungles for five years as a "commando," often assisting a struggling surgeon who treated injured soldiers by hacking off limbs before gangrene consumed them in the fetid jungle heat. The death rate was "unbearable," according to Rene's son Marc, who says his father estimated only one in 12 wounded survived.

After hand-delivering the French intelligence pouch to Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who laid the foundation for U.S. entry into Vietnam, Rene Joyeuse, inspired to find better ways to treat trauma victims - born in Zurich, the eldest of eight children, to a poor French carpenter - earned entry to the prestigious Sorbonne, the University of Paris Medical School, in 1950.

Rene also met his wife, Suzanne, while at la Sorbonne, in a bistro opposite the park, le Jardin du Luxembourg. She was a nursing student, and their attraction, affection and allegiance to one another was instant and steadfastly lasted for 62 years.

Upon graduation, the couple emigrated to the United States and married in 1955 at St. John's Episcopal Church, "the Church of the Presidents," on Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C. Suzanne called the move a "great adventure." They saw opportunity in America and a better life for the children they would have.

From D.C., Rene and Suzanne, a respected surgical scrub nurse, moved to positions at the renowned Mayo Clinic. From there, they went to the UCLA medical school, where Rene conducted research and development of the first biological heart valve replacement. In subsequent medical endeavors as a surgeon, researcher and professor, Dr. Joyeuse became a co-founder of the American Trauma Society, fostering the creation of the trauma hospital concept, and trained EMTs in emergency procedures and treating traumas, drawing understanding and passion from his wartime experience and changing that horrific knowledge to good as so many of his generation, called "The Greatest Generation" did.

Rene and Suzanne had two sons, Marc and Remi. Rene taught them to play soccer - a sport he loved in France - and to ski, hike, swim and fish, holding dear the French tradition of leaving work behind each August and taking his family to the beach and camping. Rene loved to entertain and to cook, and appreciated the fine arts. The boys called him "Papa" and their mom "Maman," and the bon vivants fascinated the boys' friends. Rene crafted family time amid constant work as he volunteered his care for military personnel at local VA hospitals while in private practice.

Rene rarely talked of the war, though he did show his medals to his boys and told them he was "lucky to survive," holding back the details, such as the fact his two bodyguards were shot dead by the SS in that fateful escape from the French village house.

After seeing most of the country, Rene and Suzanne decided that Saranac Lake would be their final home, and Rene took his last job as a director of medical services in the state prison system. Saranac Lake, they knew, would give their boys a great environment. They could ski, hike and fish to their hearts' content. In fact, son Remi became a ski instructor at Whiteface and won the celebrated end-of-season pond skimming contest.

Regretfully, however, in 2002, Rene and Suzanne's American-dream-come-true met heartbreak: Rene was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. According to Marc, "Maman took absolute care of Papa every single day for the next 10 years. Even after open-heart surgery, she refused to let anyone else care for Papa. She gave the last decade of her life taking care of him. She, too, is a hero. You can't imagine how hard that is to do for several days, let alone 10 years."

Ironically, during that heart surgery, Suzanne received a heart valve that her husband had helped develop decades ago at UCLA.

Dr. Rene Joyeuse, a celebrated war hero, a heart device inventor and trauma treatment pioneer who fought his way to critical Allied aid amid flying German bullets, was now confined to fleeting life memories, slipping in out of its differing epochs while sitting on his living room couch, hands propped on a cane in front of him, mouthing recollections in French, Italian, German and English. And as his cognition gradually declined, Suzanne slowly and painfully lost her life's partner, but not her allegiance and not her devotion.

Suzanne sobbed inconsolably as Rene was taken to Uihlein Living Center for his last days, as she had always been by his side - his partner and caregiver - but at 82, it had become too much, even for her.

It was time for Rene to escape his last capture.


The Joyeuse family members still make their home in Saranac Lake.

The Joyeuse family is striving to have the remains of Rene Joyeuse buried at Arlington Nation Cemetery, according to Dr. Joyeuse's wishes. Though he qualifies by the award of Distinguished Service Cross and by serving as an Allied officer, he did not become an American citizen until afterward. Congressman Bill Owens is assisting the family in rectifying the injustice.

Dr. Rene Joyeuse was nominated for the Saranac Lake Walk of Fame and will be inducted once fundraising efforts are completed for the plaque. Those interested in this effort are invited to visit the Saranac Lake Walk of Fame Facebook page.



Correspondence and telephone interviews with Marc-Jerome Joyeuse and Remi Joyeuse.

National Archives, Document NWMD49589

Patrick O'Donnell, "Operatives, Spies and Saboteurs"

Gary Jeffrey, "The Secret War"


Clyde Rabideau is the mayor of Saranac Lake.



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