Daniel C. Guiet is the son of Jean Claude Guiet, who began his clandestine career as an embedded agent in occupied France during WWII. Daniel graduated from Manual High School in 1970. He attended the University of Colorado and subsequently became the associate director of Rocky Mountain Planned Parenthood. He later moved to Durango, Colorado, where he founded a number of businesses. He has two sons and three grandchildren. Daniel lives in Durango and Nevy-sur-Seille, Jura, France, with his wife, Carol.
Timothy K. Smith has written and edited feature stories for periodicals for many years. He was the senior features editor at Fortune magazine, and before that he worked as a reporter and editor for the Wall Street Journal. A native New Yorker, he was educated at Brown University and the Sorbonne. He has three children and lives with his wife, Jennifer, on the Connecticut shore. He is a recipient of the Gerald Loeb career achievement award for editors.
The following is an interview with Daniel C. Guiet.
Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit.
What inspired you to write this book?
This story has been a part of my life since the age of 5, when I first peeked inside my father’s tin bread box while we lived on Saipan in 1955-1957. Even then, I partially sensed “voids” that led to questions about my family’s unusual life. How was it possible to piece together the contents, or did I simply have an overactive child’s imagination?
These sensations did not dominate my childhood, which was wonderful — filled with travel, exploration and joy. Rather, they were random and episodic, taking decades for me to begin to piece together. Yet, what did those items, stored within dad’s tin bread box, represent? A few were recognizable even then, but far from most. Why did dad have them and why did the tin bread box travel with us?
As I grew up, I repeated my secret explorations of the contents within the box. Answers were elusive, creating more questions, creating a more complex mosaic of overlaying data that further nurtured a curious sense of greater unknowns. The few times I’d asked my father a general question, including “What did you do during WWII?” he replied, “I worked with a group in England, nothing at all interesting.” In hindsight, if he provided an answer it was cleverly and subtly deflected. Direct questions were laughed off and conversations moved effortlessly along.
“Scholars of Mayhem” is a personal, detailed non-fiction account of my father’s first secret mission in Nazi-occupied France — the beginning of his remarkable clandestine life. This five-month secret mission changed my father’s life dramatically. He had subsequent missions, some of which remain classified to this day. His WWII-era operations were with agencies who purposefully destroyed files and documents shortly after the end of World War II. I am fortunate that dad’s tin bread box, sitting next to me now, is complete with extensive notes, writings, diaries, silk maps, photographs and memorabilia to be overlayed with archival records and a number of personal interviews completed between 1998 and 2010.
Once his first mission was largely declassified in 1998, a remarkable story of survival, loss, courage, sacrifice, and terror emerged — five relentless months operating in the midst of Nazi-occupied France. Dad’s story unfolded slowly, almost as if he was learning how to verbalize long-unspoken events. His organized, perfectionist mind compartmentalized easily, burying those secrets deep within him for more than 60 years. When a series of coincidental events occurred in the late 1990s, the floodgates were opened, bringing to light his team members, mission, sacrifices and accomplishments.
French-born Jean Claude Guiet became an agent by happenstance when he was recruited as a freshman at Harvard by Wild Bill Donovan’s top-secret group OSS — Office of Strategic Services. Dad was a privileged, sheltered 18-year-old, who dreamt of becoming more “American.” Upon completion of his OSS training, he was immediately shipped out to Britain and their elite SOE — Special Operations Executive group. SOE formed the basis, after WWII, of Ian Fleming’s, real-life foundation for his James Bond stories. Fleming had served as a junior British Naval Intelligence Officer during the War.
In early 1944, unknown to my father, he was being rushed through SOE’s advanced commando and spy craft training, having already been secretly selected to be attached to a veteran team of three hardened, well-tested, experienced agents, to undertake a critical mission in Nazi-occupied France. SOE did not anticipate they’d survive. They were required to volunteer and were provided an L-pill – L for lethal – to be swallowed in the event of capture. SOE training was the most advanced commando and spy craft training that existed anywhere in the world. These select women and men of SOE became the very “Tip of the Spear.”
His first mission was just the beginning of a clandestine career ranging from Nazi-occupied France to the jungles of China and Burma, throughout the South Pacific and Orient, to urban D.C. and elsewhere around the globe. My sister and I never knew our family was part of his cover story until decades later – yet we sensed “unknowns” from our different life, from our frequent travels to then-unusual locations. My parents told us that if asked by anyone, “What does your father do?” to answer that, “He works for the State Department.” And then change the subject.
My father honored his Official Secrets Act oath, taken as an 18-year-old in 1943, all of his life. Eventually, his WWII files were declassified during the mid-and late 1990s. His CIA files and some OSS/SOE files remain classified to this day. Dad’s story finally eased out in amazing ways, allowing us all access to his full story. The unearthing of specifics is a 20-year culmination of discussions, notes, interviews and shared experiences, as my wife and I returned with Dad for his first time back to France since October 1944. My father’s story is a rare one. The heroic women and men of Special Operation Executive, F Section, represent the courage of a select few desperately needed to help defeat the Nazis.
Place this excerpt in context. How does it fit into the book as a whole and why did you select it?
I was five years old at the time I first looked at the contents of the tin box where my father kept his secrets. In 1956, we were living in a quonset hut on Saipan. This is one of my earliest moments when I sensed there were “unknowns” about my family.
Tell us about creating this book: any research and travel you might have done, any other influences on which you drew?
The National Archives in the U.S., the U.K. and France had some original records. The impressive Imperial War Museum collection was informative and captivating. Musee de la Resistance Limoges, a center of resistance and the Salesmen II team history, as well as the CIA library and U.S. National Archives each had useful, but far-from-extensive files. My father after 1994 was a source of considerable information obtained from formal interviews and casual conversations with him.
His surviving comrade, M. Bob Maloubier, was a prolific source of personal stories and James Edgar, the last surviving SOE agent who operated in occupied France, also was a great resource. They contributed mightily with keen memories and details.
My wife, father and I attended the grand opening of the Violette Szabo Museum in the U.K. in 2000. We then returned to France, where we explored drop zones, ambush and demolition sites, escape routes, wireless huts and more. A return trip in 2001 to locations in the Limousin region where he operated during the summer of 1944 also helped our research. We had a most remarkable discussion with Leo Marks, who was a genius deemed too odd to work with famous codebreaker Alan Turning at Benchley Park. Marks was off-loaded to SOE to be their head cryptographer for all codes in the European Theater.
I also benefited from extensive references in historical books, original documents (some stored in the tin bread box) and the assistance of historical experts.
What were the biggest challenges you faced, or surprises you encountered in completing this book?
OSS and SOE intentionally destroyed an estimated 87% of their files shortly after the war in an effort to protect the few surviving agents from acts of retribution, to limit any possibility of war crime charges against surviving agents and to protect political leadership from possible legal or public relations repercussions from these unofficial secret operations.
Walk us through your writing process: Where and when do you write? What time of day? Do you listen to music, need quiet?
I prefer writing in quiet. Frequently, I begin in the very early mornings. I do my most productive drafting when I’ve completed my research significantly ahead of time, allowing ample time for me to place the data into context and overlaying that with other details, while referring to personal notes relating to the event at hand.
What’s your next project?
I’m working with a 5-time Emmy Award-winning documentary film producer on a film about “Scholars of Mayhem” to be released on PBS and NPR in late 2021.
I’m also drafting my second book about my father’s secret mission deep in the jungles of China and Burma in 1945.
Beyond that, I’ve been pecking away gathering research data of his Cold War era, Dad’s 13 years’ service in the CIA, overlaying his notes, comments and locations where we lived in the late 1950s and 1960s. Yes, another complex puzzle!