ALBANY - When Dr. Rene Joyeuse's family's request for his burial at Arlington National Cemetery was rejected, the family of the decorated Swiss-born World War II spy launched a campaign to get the decision reversed. Months later, Joyeuse is getting his wish, thanks in part to the involvement of the nation's top covert operators, including CIA Director David Petraeus.
Before resigning amid a sex scandal last November, Petraeus played a key role in convincing Pentagon officials that Joyeuse, a retired doctor from upstate New York, deserved to lie in rest among some of America's greatest military heroes, people familiar with the situation told The Associated Press.
"It got attention at the highest levels, very high up. That's how important he (Joyeuse) was," said Charles Pinck, president of the OSS Society, whose membership includes a dwindling number of veterans of the Office of Strategic Services, the nation's World War II intelligence agency and forerunner of the CIA.
Rene Joyeuse relaxes at home in Saranac Lake.
(Photo courtesy of the Joyeuse family)
Petraeus, Pinck added, "took a lead role to get this approved."
A memorial service and inurnment of Joyeuse's cremated remains will be held Friday afternoon at Arlington. It will be a final tribute for a warrior spy-turned-surgeon who spent his post-war years pioneering heart research and emergency trauma care from New York to Hawaii.
"We're finally putting him somewhere he belongs," said Marc Joyeuse, the veteran's oldest of two sons. "Being a soldier, that's where he wanted to be."
It almost didn't happen. After Joyeuse died in June at 92 in Saranac Lake, N.Y., his family's request for his inurnment at Arlington was rejected because he hadn't served in the U.S. military. According to military records, Joyeuse worked for the OSS but was officially a member of the Free French Forces, enlisting after France's surrender to Germany in 1940.
Marc, his brother, Remi, and their mother, Suzanne, started an effort to have the decision reversed by the Department of the Army, which runs Arlington. They contacted Patrick K. O'Donnell, a military historian who had interviewed Joyeuse a decade earlier for a book on World War II espionage.
O'Donnell had met Petraeus several years earlier at a Wounded Warriors event when the four-star Army general was commanding American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Two weeks after Joyeuse's death, O'Donnell emailed Petraeus, describing the family's quest and the veteran's wartime heroics.
The exploits are straight out of a Hollywood movie: nighttime parachute drops behind enemy lines before the D-Day invasion in France, shootouts with SS troops, dodging Nazi collaborators, helping hundreds of downed American airmen elude capture. His actions earned him the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation's second-highest military honor, pinned on him by Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, supreme command of Allied forces in Europe.
"Someone once said the ideal OSS candidate was a Ph.D. who could handle himself in a bar fight," said Pinck, a private-sector security consultant whose father was an OSS agent. "I think Rene Joyeuse typified that."
Petraeus' emailed responses to O'Donnell in late June, copies of which the author shared with the AP, show the CIA director was "checking into it." On July 20, Petraeus wrote a letter to Secretary of the Army John McHugh, highlighting Joyeuse's accomplishments and supporting his family's request for a review of Arlington's decision.
At the bottom of the letter, a copy of which was also provided to the AP, Petraeus wrote: "The situation seems very unique and the rationale quite exceptional. It would mean a great deal to the agency family and its forerunner, the OSS. Many thanks - Dave."
Other military members and intelligence operatives wrote letters in support of Joyeuse, including Adm. William McRaven, commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command. McRaven's letter referred to Joyeuse, who became a U.S. citizen in 1975, as "a true American patriot."
Asked whether the Petraeus and McRaven letters helped the family's cause, Maj. Chris Kasker, a spokesman for McHugh, responded in an email: "The letters were certainly appreciated and a testimony to the extraordinary contributions of Dr. Joyeuse to the United States military. But exceptions to policy are based on a variety of factors that look at the totality of one's service. Because of this, they are extremely rare."
On Nov. 9, a letter from the executive director of the Army National Military Cemeteries to Suzanne Joyeuse notified her that the family's request for burial at Arlington had been approved. It was the same day Petraeus resigned as director of CIA, acknowledging an extramarital affair with his biographer.
Messages left with Robert B. Barnett, Petraeus' lawyer, weren't returned.
While it might seem unusual for a CIA director to take interest in a veteran's burial dispute, in Joyeuse's case, Petraeus was paying homage to a fellow soldier-spy, said O'Donnell, whose latest book, "Dog Company," tells the story of U.S. Army Rangers in World War II.
"He is a soldier's soldier," O'Donnell said. "That was his motivation."