By Blaine Lee Pardoe
Thirty days later…
Aviation Board of Inquiry
La Borget Field
He was prepared for that question. “Perhaps. But I relied on my training, and I was correct. The British limped away in two badly damaged ships, and now they file protests with the Prime Minister, whining like little girls about the defeat I handed them. Yes, there may have been more experienced officers on the ship–but as you have already heard, the only one that came to me wanted to run and hide.”
“Your actions could be called reckless.”“I honored the command that the Capitaine gave me before he passed out, sir. He told me to make France proud. You may not agree with the manner in which I did this, but I honored that order as best I could. Given the same circumstances, I would do everything just as I did that afternoon.”
Commandant aérien Lisle looked to his peers on the board for a moment before speaking. “A report filed by Capitaine Guisarme substantiates your version of events. He claims that he would have done the same as you in this situation. That carries a great deal of weight with the members of this court martial board.”
François felt stunned. He had not expected that. “Yes, sir,” was all he could muster.
The board of inquiry members looked at each other, and Commandant aérien Gravois banged the gavel. “We are in recess for a few minutes.”
One by one, they made their way to an antechamber at the back of the walnut-paneled room. François could have sat down, but instead he remained at the podium. I stood alone in command, I stand alone now.
They were gone for what seemed like an eternity, but was only a few minutes. When they returned, François stiffened slightly, awaiting their judgment.
Commandant aérien Gravois, the stodgiest of the trio, delivered the verdict. “Based on Capitaine Guisarme’s recommendation, this board finds that you acted responsibly and according to the highest standards of the Flotte de Volée. Your record will be noted as such. These proceedings are closed.” He slammed the gavel down.
François allowed himself a wry grin. He and his classmates had bet who would captain a ship first. He had won.
* * * * *
As the room emptied, Commandant aérien Gravois turned to his colleagues. “That impudent young man was reckless. And damned lucky. He cost us men and a cruiser.”
Commander Neville shook his head. “No, he was bold–daring. Yes, a lot of men died, but more would have if he had not been there. And the ship? We all know the Intrépide was due for decommissioning. For him to have executed such a battle with that relic of a ship says a great deal. He is exactly the kind of officer we need in the service. This court martial proceeding sends the right message to our junior officers.”
“You want more men like this Moreau?” Admiral Lisle said.
“I do,” Commander Neville replied. “War is inevitable in the next few years. Having such men under us is the best chance for victory.”
“So what do we do with such a man?”
“We give him a medal and make him a hero. The British protests should be made public, along with the details of his heroic actions. Let the newspapers talk to him; he will draw in hundreds of new recruits. Our people are looking for young, energetic heroes. Moreau fits that bill perfectly”
“Then what?” Gravois growled.
Admiral Lisle chimed in, apparently accepting Neville’s arguments. “That is easy, Claude. We promote him and give him a ship at the earliest possible opportunity.”
“At his age? It is unprecedented.”
“Then we start a new tradition. Give him a destroyer to start with, and a year or two to hone his skills further. Such an officer is to be nurtured, not condemned.”
“His actions cost many men their lives!”
“Qui. And we all know his actions also saved the lives of many more. He was right–he embarrassed the British with a bloody defeat. The man tangled with Rivenburg and came away the victor–that alone is no small achievement. We need to exploit this.”
“And if you are wrong about him?”Gravois asked.
Commandant aérien Lisle grinned. “If I am, you can have my commission along with his next time around.” He slid his chair noisily across the tile floor. “But I am not worried about that. Not in the short term, anyway.”