From War Hero to Soldier of Christ
AS TOLD BY LOUIS LOLLIOT
On August 16, 1944, I was with the Allied forces that landed on the beaches in the south of France during World War II. After a week of combat on the Mediterranean Coast, my squadron of tanks entered the seaport of Marseilles and fought its way up the hill toward the Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde Basilica. Our mission was to take the German fortifications there.
THE fighting was intense. A tank in my group was hit, and three of my comrades in it were killed. Then a mine tore off one of the tracks of my tank, disabling it. Determined to hold our ground, we fought on for the next several hours.
Holding a machine gun in one hand and the French flag in the other, I took advantage of a lull in the fighting and moved forward on foot along with a Free French fighter. Exhausted and blackened by gunpowder, I planted the French flag at the entrance to the basilica.
During the weeks that followed, we advanced north in pursuit of the retreating German troops. Snipers as well as cables that were strung head-high across the road forced us to advance with the hatches of our tanks fastened down.
In October our detachment reached Ramonchamp, a small town in the Vosges Mountains in northeastern France. The town seemed abandoned. As I stood in the turret of my tank examining the surroundings, suddenly a rocket fired from a window entered the tank, instantly killing three of my men when it exploded. Another soldier and I were seriously injured, and the tank was immobilized. Despite having 17 pieces of shrapnel in my leg, I took the controls of the tank while another one towed us.
For this episode I received a commendation in dispatches. A few days later, when General de Lattre de Tassigny, commander of the French 1st Army, decorated me for what I had accomplished at Marseilles, he remarked: “We will see each other again soon.”
Not long afterward, I was assigned to be the general’s personal attaché. In time, I accompanied him to Berlin, where he represented France at the German surrender on May 8, 1945. For the next four years, I served at his beck and call.
Yet, how had I become so involved in major events of World War II?
Trained in Religion and War
I grew up as a devout Roman Catholic with the desire to serve my God and country. On August 29, 1939, just a few days before France entered World War II, I signed up for the motorized cavalry. I was only 18 years old. After five months of training at the École Militaire in Paris, I was sent as a young noncommissioned officer to France’s eastern front.
This was the period known as the phony war, called that because all we did was wait for the German troops that were busy on other fronts. Then, when the Germans finally attacked, I was taken prisoner, in June 1940. Two months later I escaped, and eventually I was able to join the French forces in North Africa.
In the campaign in Tunisia against German troops under General Erwin Rommel, the Desert Fox, I suffered burns to more than 70 percent of my body and was in a coma for nine days. I spent three months in a hospital in Sidi-bel-Abbès, in northwest Algeria, where the headquarters of the French Foreign Legion was located. While in North Africa, I received the Croix de Guerre, the Military Cross.
The Catholic chaplains urged us to do our “Christian” duty. In keeping with their exhortations, I was ready to sacrifice my life for France. Whenever I could, I took Communion before battle. And when in the thick of combat, I prayed to God and to the Virgin Mary.
I respected enemy soldiers, many of whom were also devout Roman Catholics. Some wore a belt with a buckle on which was inscribed Gott mit uns (God is with us). Does it not seem strange to think that God would answer the prayers of soldiers who were fighting on opposite sides and who were of the same religion?
After the war, on April 10, 1947, I married Reine, a girl from General de Lattre de Tassigny’s hometown of Mouilleron-en-Pareds, in Vendée. The general served as my witness at the wedding. Following his death, in January 1952, I carried his pennant at his state funeral.
Then, one Sunday morning late in 1952, when my wife and I were getting ready to go to Mass with our little daughter, two of Jehovah’s Witnesses rang our doorbell. What they said about the Bible aroused our curiosity. Although my wife and I were deeply religious, we had little knowledge of the Bible, since we had been discouraged by the church from reading it. The Witness who offered to study the Bible with us was Léopold Jontès, then overseer of the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses in France. From our Bible study, I was at last able to find the answers to questions that had gone unanswered since childhood.
For example, I had always been intrigued by the Our Father, or Lord’s Prayer. As a Catholic, I believed that all good people go to heaven when they die, so I could not understand why we prayed to God: “Thy will be done on earth.” (Matthew 6:9, 10, Douay Version; italics ours.) The priests with whom I had spoken either avoided my question about this or said that this prayer would be answered when everybody became Roman Catholic. But the answer did not satisfy me.
Nor could the priests provide satisfactory answers to my questions regarding the Trinity. This Catholic teaching says, according to the words of a church creed, that ‘the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, and yet they are not three Gods but one God.’ So the discovery of the Bible’s clear teaching that Jesus is the Son of God and not Almighty God himself was a great source of joy to my wife and me.—Mark 12:30, 32; Luke 22:42; John 14:28; Acts 2:32; 1 Corinthians 11:3.
We both felt that our eyes had been opened for the first time and that we had found a pearl of inestimable value, worth any sacrifice. (Matthew 13:46) We realized that we would have to make a choice to lay hold of this treasure. We soon adopted a viewpoint like that of the apostle Paul, who said that he considered “all things to be loss on account of the excelling value of the knowledge of Christ Jesus.” We thus made adjustments in our lives to serve God.—Philippians 3:8.
Taking My Stand
In April 1953, only a few months after we began to study the Bible with the Witnesses, I received orders to join the French expeditionary corps that was being sent to fight in Indochina. At the time, I was serving as adjutant to the commanding officer at the Senate in Paris. Since by then I had come to understand the Bible principle of neutrality, I realized that I needed to make a decision. (John 17:16) I informed my superiors of my refusal to comply with orders to fight in Indochina, citing my desire not to participate in war anymore.—Isaiah 2:4.
“Do you realize that you will have a black mark against you and that all doors will be closed to you?” my superiors asked. From that moment on, I was put on the sidelines, so to speak. But this was a protection, since I was no longer called for military exercises. Many of our family and friends could not understand how I could throw away what they considered a privileged position in society.
As a result of my military record, I was given preferential treatment by the authorities, who respected me despite my beliefs. Over the next two years, I was given an extended health leave, and I did not have to resume any of my functions. In the meantime, my wife and I attended meetings with the local congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses and even shared our newfound beliefs with others.
At Last—A Soldier of Christ!
Finally, early in 1955, I was freed from any military obligations. Fifteen days later, on March 12, my wife and I symbolized our dedication to Jehovah God by water baptism at an assembly in Versailles. My professional situation having changed, I had to find different employment to take care of the needs of my family. For the next four years, I worked as a porter at the Halles (the central market), in Paris. While making such an adjustment was not easy, Jehovah blessed my efforts.
Over the years, my wife and I have been able to help many people accept the Bible’s message. I have had opportunity to explain the Christian viewpoint on neutrality to various military and civil authorities. My former career as a soldier has often proved useful in overcoming the prejudices of many regarding Jehovah’s Witnesses. It has given me opportunity to explain our Christian position of neutrality in connection with the wars of the nations, showing that this was the same position taken by Christ’s early followers. For example, Professor C. J. Cadoux wrote in his book The Early Church and the World: “Up to the reign of Marcus Aurelius at least [161-180 C.E.], no Christian would become a soldier after his baptism.”
One of the most difficult trials I faced was the death of my wife in 1977. She died after a year-long illness, courageously expressing her faith right up to the time of her death. The wonderful hope of the resurrection sustained me. (John 5:28, 29) A further help in overcoming my grief was enrolling as a regular pioneer, as full-time ministers of Jehovah’s Witnesses are called. I did this in 1982 after retiring from secular work. Later, in 1988, how happy I was to serve as an instructor at the school for training pioneers!
Since the death of my wife, I have had to fight periodic bouts of depression. But close, spiritually strong friends have helped me to get back on my feet. Through all such trials, I have always felt the strength and loving-kindness of Jehovah, who looks after all who trust in him. (Psalm 18:2) I also feel that the trials we go through help to train us for carrying on our spiritual warfare. (1 Peter 1:6, 7) As a congregation elder, I, in turn, have been able to help others who have become depressed.—1 Thessalonians 5:14.
When I was a boy, I dreamed of being a soldier, and I have, in a sense, remained a soldier right up to now. I left one army to enter another, becoming a “soldier of Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 2:3) Today, in spite of failing health, I strive to the best of my abilities to carry on the fight as a soldier of Christ in “the fine warfare” that will ultimately lead to victory, to the honor and glory of our God, Jehovah.—1 Timothy 1:18.
Louis Lolliot died on March 1, 1998, as this article was being prepared for publication.
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Our wedding, attended by General de Lattre de Tassigny
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Louis Lolliot and his wife, Reine, in 1976