March 29, 2013

Arlington burial for Saranac Lake veteran


SARANAC LAKE — Dr. Rene Joyeuse touched many worlds in one 92-year lifetime.

He was an international spy, decorated military operative, surgeon, the founder of modern trauma-response techniques and invented the first replacement heart valve.

And he was a husband, father and fisherman.

Joyeuse’s legacy began with outstanding military service. His passing last June was the final crossing from quiet retirement in the rural Adirondack village that he called home for more than 20 years.

Serving the Allied forces in World War II, he was decorated with the Distinguished Service Cross by Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower himself.

In his later years, Joyeuse expressed a desire for a burial at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

Inquiry by family after the doctor’s death last summer met with initial denial by the U.S. military because, though he served American forces, the veteran agent was born in Switzerland.


A sequence of events as storied as the life the former spy led to eventual approval at the bequest of the Joyeuse family, Secretary of the Army John McHugh, CIA Director David Petraeus, military historian and author Patrick O’Donnell, Saranac Lake Mayor Clyde Rabideau and veteran friends.

O’Donnell, a veteran of the war in Iraq, first met and interviewed Joyeuse about 10 years ago.

Joyeuse’s story of escape from a house in the French countryside surrounded by Germans during World War II is the stuff of legend.

Shot in the hand and kneecap, cut and bruised, he leaped over gates, scaled walls and hid behind a door in a stranger’s house while German troops searched for him.

He shared the intrigue and nuance of World War II espionage with O’Donnell, who was struck by the modesty of the former Allied spy who became a medical doctor.

“I was immediately drawn to him,” the author told the Press-Republican on Thursday.

“He acted like it was no big deal. He told no one about his experience. He was so self-effacing.”

But Joyeuse’s story compels the first pages of O’Donnell’s book, “Operatives, Spies and Saboteurs, the story of the OSS.”

“I had just a name, Rene Joyeuse, as someone that worked with the OSS (Office of Strategic Services), the early version of the CIA. I drove there as a secondary stop after going to Norwich University,” the author said.

At Joyeuse’s home, O’Donnell met the man’s wife, Suzanne, and two sons.

”Then we went back in time. He started to tell me about the war. It was extraordinary.”


The story started in Switzerland, where Rene Veuve was born a carpenter’s son and one of eight children, according to accounts of the secret agent’s life.

At 24, he began working for the Allies through the OSS.

The military gave Veuve the code name Joyeuse, the name he kept after leaving the service.

It translates from French as “joyful.”

He dodged German bullets, trained as a spy in England and later survived dangerous treks into the jungles of Indochina, before Vietnam, but he always emerged alive, bearing strategic information.

In Indochina, he worked with Army medics, an experience that soon led to his entry into the Medical School at Sorbonne, in Paris, and his second career as a doctor.

Paris is also where he met Suzanne, a surgical nurse. Married in Washington, D.C., they began careers at the Mayo Clinic that eventually led to positions at UCLA Medical School.

There Dr. Joyeuse invented the first replacement heart valve. The spy-turned-doctor founded the American Trauma Society.

Married and inseparable, the Joyeuses had two sons and came to Saranac Lake some 25 years ago.


When the Joyeuse family was told their loved one couldn’t be interred at Arlington, they contacted O’Donnell, who appealed to Petraeus.

At the same time, Saranac Lake’s mayor reached out to Secretary of the Army McHugh, a former North Country congressman.

Rabideau first met the Joyeuses when he went to fix their roof.

“I knock on the front door, I say hello,” Rabideau recalled. “There’s this fellow sitting on the couch, his hands on a cane. He responds in French, so I talked to him in French.”

Learning more about the quiet neighbor, Rabideau said he was astonished to find such a decorated war hero and renowned surgeon living here.

“They have two sons, both in their forties now, Marc-Jerome and Remi-Pascal. They all lived in Saranac Lake. Remi went to high school here and, believe it or not, in the late ‘80s he won the Pond Skimming title at Whiteface,” Rabideau said.

Troubled that a notable veteran was denied final rites at Arlington, Rabideau wrote to McHugh in July.

“The letter we received back from McHugh said the technical reason for denied burial is he was not a U.S. citizen when he wore the American uniform.”


Two weeks after Joyeuse’s death, O’Donnell had emailed Petraeus, describing the family’s quest and the veteran’s achievements.

And on July 20, Petraeus wrote a letter to McHugh, highlighting Joyeuse’s accomplishments and supporting his family’s request for a review of Arlington’s decision.

At the bottom of the letter, a copy of which was shared with The Associated Press, Petraeus wrote: “The situation seems very unique and the rationale quite exceptional. It would mean a great deal to the agency family and its forerunner, the OSS. Many thanks — Dave.”

On Nov. 9, a letter from the executive director of the Army National Military Cemeteries to Mrs. Joyeuse notified her that the family’s request for burial at Arlington had been approved.   

It was the same day Petraeus resigned as director of CIA.

On Thursday, Rabideau and O’Donnell were en route to Arlington to witness, today, the final military honors given to a man whose life was the stuff of legend.

“He was the neighbor next door that nobody knows about,” O’Donnell mused.

“Rene Joyeuse represents something bigger. He represents this generation that’s in its twilight. That’s why this inturnment is so important.”

“We’re finally putting him somewhere he belongs,” Marc Joyeuse, the veteran’s oldest son told the AP. 

Being a soldier, that’s where he wanted to be.”

Email Kim Smith