Searching for the Dutch-Paris Escape Line
How did a man who grew up in Oakland, California, come to be driving American aviators around the Pyrenees in 1944?
This man, whom we’ll call Frisco because that’s what the aviators called him, was born in California in 1912, presumably to French immigrants. When he was 16 the family returned to their farm in the Pyrenees, near the northern end of the Luchonnais valley, south of Toulouse and east of Lourdes. The way the American aviators told the story, Frisco fought in the Lincoln Brigade in the Spanish Civil War and then married a French girl. The French sources don’t mention any Republican sympathies, but they wouldn’t. They do confirm that he married a French woman in 1937. The couple had one daughter.
Anyone who volunteered on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War would have been an obvious recruit for the Resistance. But even without that qualification, Frisco had something that would have been completely irresistible to an escape line: fluent English. Because most American, British, Australian and New Zealand aviators did not speak French, it would have been immensely helpful to have someone who could explain things to them, especially if you had a big party of them who you were trying to sneak over the Pyrenees.
It’s not clear who recruited Frisco, but it could have been one of several people from his own village who were involved in the local escape line that Dutch-Paris used to get aviators and Engelandvaarders over the mountains and into Spain. It could have been another Dutch-Paris guide who shared the same last name and was about the same age, possibly a cousin.
It is very clear that Frisco’s main job in the line was to drive aviators from train stations to hide-outs in the mountains. A couple of armed maquisards usually accompanied him in case they ran into German vehicles on the road. Driving evaders around was a lot quicker than having them walk, and it conserved their energies for the high passes, but it was definitely dangerous. The Germans controlled the roads and would certainly have stopped any French vehicle they encountered. Frisco also occasionally walked part of the way over the mountains with groups of evaders as one of their guides and guards.
The details remain sketchy because Frisco and two other Dutch-Paris guides fell into an ambush in June 1944. At least one witness claimed that they were captured in Frisco’s truck as it crossed a bridge and were killed with a flamethrower. So Frisco himself never wrote a report about his Resistance exploits. His wife, who lived on their mountain farm with their daughter, did not send in a report either. The people with whom he worked most closely and with whom he died also did not write reports after the war. But the American aviators he helped remembered him well, and spoke highly of him in their reports.