"Beau geste" is a French expression that means "a gracious (or fine) gesture.”
But “Beau Geste” is better known in this country for a motion pictures and its several remakes, based on the 1924 adventure novel by the same title.
Likely the most famous is the 1939 version, starring Gary Cooper, Ray Milland and Robert Preston as the star-crossed Geste brothers.
Cooper plays Michael “Beau” Geste, with Preston in the role of Digby and Milland as John. The brothers are orphans, raised in England by Lady Brandon and her spendthrift husband Sir Hector.
The movie only comes to mind because of the Sept. 11attack this year on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, in which four Americans were killed, including the ambassador, a member of his staff and two Navy Seals, part of a Global Response Staff or GRS that provides security for CIA case officers in the Libyan city. They were in a secure CIA facility about a mile away from the consulate when they heard the attack unfold.
It’s still uncertain if the Seals actually were told to stand down and not provide help. What is certain is they went to the compound and helped many escape with their lives, while losing their own without being ordered to do so.
There’s only a few coincidences with the fictional “Beau Geste” and the actual events of Sept. 11, 2012. But the truth not yet being known is one of them.
In the 1939 film, the Brandons have fallen on hard times and must sell the family’s most valued possession, a sapphire called the “Blue Water.” Beau asks to see the jewel one last time. But when Lady Brandon shows it, the lights go out. After the confusion and the lights are turned back on, the sapphire is missing. Suspicion falls on the brothers who all claim innocence.
But then Beau leaves without warning, and Digby departs soon after. Both leave behind notes claiming to be the thief. John can’t believe either of his brothers stole the gem and he leaves to find them, discovering they had joined the French Foreign Legion. He too becomes a Legionnaire.
Another similarity between fiction and reality is the brothers find themselves in Northern Africa, fighting Islamic tribesmen – the Tauregs.
The villain in the film, however, isn’t one of the nomads. It’s the sadistic Sgt. Markoff, played by Brian Donlevy. There’s little need to retell the whole story here, but it ends tragically.
The Legionnaires are surrounded and outnumbered by the Tauregs at Fort Zinderneuf. They fight almost to the last man. The only three survivors are Beau, John and Markoff.
Beau is killed by Markoff, who believes Beau to have the stolen sapphire he covets.
Markoff in turn is killed by John. But before Beau dies, he informs John about the truth.
As a boy he was hiding in a suit of armor and saw Lord Brandon sell the original “Blue Water” and replace it with a fake. He stole the fake jewel to save the family’s reputation.
It was a beau geste and it eventually cost him his life.
Woods and Doherty also made a fine gesture when they rushed to the aid of the other trapped Americans without orders, possibly breaking them.
It’s too soon to tell if our nearby forces in Sigonella Air Base, just 480 miles away, could have rendered aide. The whole truth eventually must come out.
The election next week has clouded the issue since it began in September. Are presidential politics involved? Certainly, on both sides.
But what is certain is that Woods and Doherty showed great bravery and self-sacrifice. They ignored orders and went beyond their duty to help their fellow countrymen.
Their valor should be recognized and honored. No matter who is in the White House in 2013; no matter which party is in control of the House and Senate, both of those warriors should be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
That would be a true beau geste and one this country should make.