Fifty years to the day since Paris was liberated from the Nazis, an American and a Frenchman who fought side by side in the French Resistance were reunited Thursday in Los Angeles.
Arlie Blood and Jean le Brix exchanged kisses on the cheek, swapped war stories and complimented each other on surviving to 1994 ("I'm 73, but I only look 72," cracked le Brix)--and on surviving 1944.
"There aren't words to describe it, but I will say he's a very brave man," said Blood, 78.
"The hero is not me, but him," replied le Brix.
Thursday's meeting underscores the little-known role that Americans played in the French Resistance, according to officials of the local French consulate who helped reunite the pair.
Dozens of American airmen shot down over France by Nazi artillery were turned into guerrilla-style fighters after parachuting to the ground and being rescued by Resistance members.
That's how the saga of Blood and "Barnaby" began in the late spring of 1944.
Barnaby was le Brix's code name in the Resistance: None of the freedom fighters used their real names for fear that they might be identified if other Resistance members were caught and tortured by the Nazis.
Blood met Barnaby after his P-47 Thunderbolt fighter was shot down while attacking a German ammunition train. He bailed out and hid in a wheat field until a young girl carrying bread, a bottle of wine and a French-English dictionary came to his aid and summoned Resistance members.
They took Blood in and introduced him to le Brix. "He could speak a little English, so I latched onto him," Blood explained. Soon, the pair were staging nighttime commando raids together.
Barnaby's knowledge of the terrain and German positions helped keep Blood safe during the month that the pair sneaked past Nazi patrols to blow up railroad tracks and bridges used by German invaders. The one time that Blood didn't follow Barnaby's advice, he ended up getting captured by the Nazis.
As American forces advanced after the D-day invasion, Blood declined Barnaby's offer to personally lead him to U.S. troops. Instead, he hitched a ride with two Frenchmen who soon found themselves stopped at gunpoint at a German roadblock.
The Nazis executed the two Frenchmen and took Blood into custody.
Barnaby assumed the worst about Blood too. "For 50 years I thought he had been killed," le Brix said. "I thought he was dead."
Blood managed to escape German detention the next month. He joined another Resistance group and later was part of a five-man squad that managed to liberate the French towns of Losche and Tours a few days before American soldiers arrived.
After the war, Blood continued in the Air Force, eventually working as a colonel in the Pentagon and later as an executive for Northrop in Los Angeles. Le Brix returned to Brest, where he worked until his retirement as a regional government administrator.
Le Brix said he traveled to Los Angeles on vacation 15 years ago without realizing his old war buddy was living in Palos Verdes.
Blood traveled to France on vacation in 1984 and spent days looking for Barnaby. But he said he came up empty-handed because he only knew the code name.
The mystery was unraveled after Blood learned that the local French consulate was planning a mock invasion of Santa Monica State Beach on June 6 to commemorate D-day. He asked cultural attache Gerard Loiseaux if he would help find Barnaby. Intrigued, Loiseaux said yes.
"I put an article in a Brittany paper about Blood and Barnaby and contacted some Resistance veterans associations," Loiseaux said. Soon, Barnaby's true identity was known.
Thursday's reunion, staged at the Wiesenthal Center in West Los Angeles, came after le Brix and his wife, Suzanne, arrived with friends Gerard and Yvonne Deschartres. They are visiting the Deschartres' daughter Nathalie, a Santa Monica video game producer.
Blood and his wife, Lucille, who now live in Canyon Lake in Riverside County, plan to visit the le Brixes next June.
Barnaby has promised to take him to the two Frenchmen's grave--and to meet the woman who gave him bread and wine 50 years ago.
"There are many heroes," Blood said.