Former Durango resident Jean Claude Guiet died Friday, March 22, 2013, in Denver. He turned 89 one week earlier.
Mr. Guiet was born to René and Jeanne Guiet on March 15, 1924, in Belfort, France. His parents headed the French Department at Smith College for 30 years, so he spent his school years in the United States and summers in France.
He attended Deerfield Academy before entering Harvard University at age 15. When Mr. Guiet was 16, “Wild Bill” Donovan recruited him for the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to the CIA, because of his ability to speak like a native Frenchman.
Mr. Guiet trained with the Army Rangers at Fort Bragg and the OSS at the “Camp,” receiving specialized training in England. He became a member of the Special Operations Executive, known as “Churchill’s Secret Army, whose single project was “to set Europe ablaze,” Mr. Guiet’s family said.
With three other team members, all of whom had experience in German-occupied France, he parachuted into France with orders to prevent the 2nd SS Panzer Division from reinforcing German troops at the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. According to historian Harry Butowsky, they siphoned off the axle oil from the division’s rail transport rail cars, replacing it with abrasive grease.
The team continued to work with the French Resistance, eventually forcing the surrender of more than 75,000 German troops in Limoges.
Shortly after the liberation of Paris, Mr. Guiet was sent to Indo-China to organize and train tribes in the jungles of China, Vietnam, Burma, Laos and Cambodia to fight the Japanese. Specific secret missions tied him to the Ranger Detachment 101. At the end of the war, he was left isolated in the jungles of China.
“He maneuvered his way back over the Hump,” his family said, “to Calcutta and jumped a freighter to Algeria, where he introduced himself to a stunned U.S. Embassy.”
The journey took eight months.
Mr. Guiet was awarded numerous medals and commendations, both French and American, including two Silver Stars with multiple Oak Leaf Clusters and two Croix de Guerre, France’s highest honor, one each from the French government and the Resistance, which he most treasured. His missions with the OSS and SOE weren’t declassified until 2000.
After the war, he returned to Harvard at the age of 20, earning his bachelor’s degree in Romance languages magna cum laude and completing a master’s degree the next year.
In 1947, he married Alice Gertrude Galatoeau in Cambridge, Mass.
While working on his doctorate, Mr. Guiet was recruited by the CIA. He worked largely in the Orient and Washington, D.C., during the 1950s. His CIA missions remain classified.
“Jean Guiet became active in the American Civil Rights movement,” his family said, “and early on, as an activist and protester of the Vietnam War, as he used to say, ‘because I know the facts and the truth.’”
He lived in Durango from about 1989 to 1992.
He later entered the private sector, working for Honeywell International Inc.
In his spare time, Mr. Guiet enjoyed making model trains, practicing the languages he spoke and sailing.
“Jean was a gentle and quiet man,” his family said. “Exceptional in his intellect and education, he never spoke about his experiences with OSS/SOE, nor the CIA. He was kind, humble and understated. A talented linguist, a driven perfectionist and modest – a wonderful father.”
Mr. Guiet was preceded in death by his wife of 65 years, Alice Gertrude Guiet, in July 2012.
He is survived by his son, Dan Guiet, of Durango; daughter, Claudia Holzer, of Littleton; four grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.
No service is planned.