I like to think about those who were here before us. It’s easy to forget there have been generations of others who moved through the same spaces and places through which we move today. Because I work at the Newseum, which is built on the same site as Washington, D.C.’s National Hotel, I get to spend my days in the same area where Andrew Jackson, James K. Polk, and Abraham Lincoln all spent time. It was also where Henry Clay lived when he was in Washington and where actor John Wilkes Booth planned the assassination of Lincoln.
If that isn’t cool enough, I spend my evenings and weekends in the former home of the late John and Barbara Hasey. John F. Hasey had a fascinating career as a salesman for Cartier in Paris, World War II hero, senior official with the CIA and writer.
And, as you can still see from my backyard even 12 years after his death, he was also a gifted gardener.
Hasey, who was born in Brockton, Mass., and attended Columbia University, moved to France in 1923 to enroll at the Sorbonne. To make money to pay for school, he answered a classified ad and got a job with Cartier who was looking for a salesman who could speak English. Hasey worked for Cartier in Paris, Cannes, Deauville and Monte Carlo, and he became very successful at selling high-end jewelry to the rich and famous.
According to his 1944 autobiography, “Yankee Fighter,” his clients included one royal couple that was making a lot of news at the time:
“The Windsor’s fell within my jurisdiction because, although it had not been actually agreed, it had been understood that I would have first claim on the sale of jewelry to English or American clients or prospective clients. I don’t know directors were startled when they heard that I wanted to walk where angels feared to tread, or whether they considered that I was an American from Bridgewater and that the Duchess was an American from Baltimore, and that I had already had some success with Americans. At any rate, whatever influenced them, I was given the opportunity. In the end, I think I got to know them as well, if not better, that any salesman in the shop…As soon as they were settled in the Hotel Meurice, the Duchess sent over some of her pieces of jewelry to be cleaned. I looked them over and found engraved on the backs “Wallis from David.” A few of them surprised me they were dated so far back…on the inside of a sapphire-and-diamond ring was engraved in what looked like Edward’s hand: “W—really forever—D.”
In 1938, the Soviet Union invaded Finland and started what came to be known as the Winter War. Hasey recruited other Americans in Paris at the time to raise money for two ambulances and he headed to the front to help support the cause. During a battle, his forearm was shattered.
While his wounds were healing, World War II began and, once he was ready for battle, Hasey joined the French Foreign Legion. In the 1941 Battle for Syria, Hasey was 24 and serving as a sub-lieutenant when his right jaw and larynx were shot away by enemy machine gun fire. He was publicly honored by Charles de Gaulle as the first American to shed his blood for Free France and one of only four Americans (including Dwight D. Eisenhower) decorated with France’s highest World War II honor, Companion of the Order of the Liberation.
As journalist Alex Chadwick reported in a segment for NPR in 2005—which includes a recording of an earlier 1990 interview with Hasey—his second injury didn’t keep him from contributing to the war effort:
In 1943, a children’s comic book, “Yank with the Fighting French,” was produced as part of a series about real heroes.
After the war, Eisenhower recruited Hasey to work for the CIA, and his first job was to help de Gaulle write his memoirs (and keep an eye on the French leader). In 1953, Hasey married Barbara Trood who was attending school in London and together they made their home in Arlington, Va. Hasey retired from the CIA in 1974 and spent time with his children and grandchildren here at the house in which my family and I now live.
Interestingly for me, as I wrote this, I discovered another connection between Hasey and myself. Much of the planning for the American’s ambulance service during the Winter War in 1930 was done at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris. In my just-released biography of Odd McIntyre, “An Odd Book,” I wrote about McIntyre’s love of Harry’s Bar and how he spent time there with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and others.
That means Hasey sat in a bar where McIntyre once sat, while I wrote about a book about McIntyre while sitting in the study where Hasey once sat.
Further proof that sometimes we’re more connected to those who came before us than we even realize.