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An Amazing Life: Robert de La Rochefoucauld, World War II Saboteur

As brother Jim Memmott tweeted: "Good heavens, what a life."

Read this New York Times obituary of Robert de La Rochefoucauld and we bet you'll say something like that too. As the Times writes, in World War II the French count's exploits as an agent for the British:

"Were legend, involving an eclectic and decidedly resourceful collection of tools in the service of sabotage and escape, including loaves of bread, a stolen limousine, the leg of a table, a bicycle and a nun's habit, not to mention the more established accouterments of espionage like parachutes, explosives and a submarine."

He died on May 8 at the age of 88. But as the Times says, "perhaps befitting a man whose wartime adventures were accomplished out of the public eye" word of his death is only slowly emerging.

Count de La Rochefoucauld's "epic awesomeness," The Atlantic Wire notes, included:

-- Being captured and condemned to death by the Nazis twice, but escaping each time.

-- Faking an epileptic seizure to draw a guard's attention then killing the guard with a blow from a table leg.

-- Dressing in a nun's habit to sneak past Nazi patrols.

-- Blowing up a Nazi munitions factory. He smuggled the explosives "in hollowed-out loaves of bread," the Times writes.

-- Parachuting into France twice. On one mission, he destroyed an electric substation and blew up railroad tracks, the Times says.

Also amazing to think about: at the age of 15, according to The Telegraph, "he was taken on a school trip to Berchtesgaden, Hitler's alpine retreat. The Fuehrer patted La Rochefoucauld on the cheek affectionately — at the time a dream come true for the 15-year-old, who along with his schoolmates had attached swastikas to their bicycles."

Four decades after the war, The Telegraph adds, the count testified for the defense at the trial of Maurice Papon, a Vichy official "accused of deporting 1600 Jews from the city." Papon claimed he had helped the resistance during the war, and Count de La Rochefoucauld said that was true. But Papon was convicted. Soon after, Papon fled to Switzerland — using Count de La Rochefoucauld's name and passport.

The count is, appropriately enough, being featured at the blog Badass of the Week.

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Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.

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