Legion of the Lost
The True Experience of an American in the French Foreign Legion
by Jaime Salazar
Pub Date 10 Aug 2017
Revised edition, with a new foreword and afterword from the author.
No army is more surrounded by mystery, romance, and admiration than the French Foreign Legion. King Louis Philippe II created the Foreign Legion in 1831 as a way to rid France of penniless immigrants and others considered a liability to the French establishment. The Foreign Legion still exists today as an elite army of modern mercenaries from around the world, in the service of la France.
Considered a haven for the dregs of society, joining the Foreign Legion was rumoured to be simple, but it wasn’t. Getting out of the Foreign Legion, as Salazar soon realised, proved impossible. So what was an engineering professional doing in the “Legion of the Damned”? For those Dostoevsky calls the “insulted and the injured,” men of character who seek adventure in the most obscure places, the Legion offers refuge. After surrendering his passport, and with it, any human rights, the Legion gave Salazar a new name and life.
Even after finishing four months of what the Legion calls instruction, Salazar realized that his existence wasn’t like that of Gary Cooper in Beau Geste. It was more a primitive life of beatings, marches, fanatical discipline, and sadistic NCOs. Idealists looking for a new beginning come to the Legion, but only the toughest, and cruelest are left to wear the Legion headdress, the képi blanc.
Once enlisted, there are three ways to leave the Legion: finishing one’s five-year contract, disability, or leaving in a box. While serving a term in Legion prison, Salazar came up with a fourth solution — escape.
‘From an air-conditioned Chicago office, Mr. Salazar took the express elevator straight to hell. Legion of the Lost is his story, the improbable, very funny tale of a sensitive, bookish child of Mexican immigrants who walked away from a promising career and, for romantic reasons, threw in his lot with a motley assortment of thugs, drunks, drug abusers and desperate refugees from the far corners of the earth. And those are the ones giving orders.’
New York Times
‘A story of horrifying institutionalised cruelty and incredible suffering, tempered with extraordinary camaraderie and mind-boggling fortitude. Legion of the Lost lays to rest romantic myths about the French Foreign Legion forever.’
‘After about a year in corporate America, Jaime Salazar realized he wanted more in life. He wanted more than a big paycheck and a BMW. Salazar is a born adventurer and romantic and was not content with his job with Siemens in Chicago, where he was part of the technical sales teams. His ideals led him to the French Foreign Legion.’
The Purdue Exponent
‘A colorful, detailed, and brisk account of the blood, beatings, binge drinking, racism, and occasional satisfaction and pride from his time with the Legion. Salazar’s prose marches along like a fit Legionnaire, largely un-ornamented yet getting the job done quickly and effectively, with all the dirt, swearing, and gunpowder one would expect from a military memoir. Legion of the Lost should prompt serious reflection about commitment, discipline, meaning, and purpose in life.’