Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Getrude Legendre – Socialite Spy

 It has been written that Gertrude Legendre was “one of those gals the Almighty doesn’t make anymore.”
Daughter of a well-to-do rug manufacturer, Gertrude Sanford gave up the life of a debutante for that of a big-game hunter. She shot her first elk in Wyoming in her teens, and she and her husband Sidney Legendre pursued big game all over the world during the 1920s and ‘30s, contributing some rare specimens to museums.
While Sidney served in the armed forces during World War II, Gertrude joined the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), forerunner of the CIA. When she was transferred to the  Paris office, she was given a cover story and went to work as a spy. She became the first American woman captured in France. During the six months she was held as a POW, she survived constant German interrogation by claiming to be an airhead typist.
She made friends with one of the German guards who had lived in America. He no doubt played a major role in her survival. After the war, she was able to help him emigrate to this country.
This guard helped Gertrude pull off a daring escape from the prison camp. Hiding all the way behind unused seats, she took a train to the German-Swiss border. Just as she made a run for the border, German guards ordered her to halt. Waving her hand over her head and shouting, “American passport,” she slipped across the border to freedom.
After the war, she and her husband bought Medway Plantation in the lowcountry of South Carolina and became involved in environmental issues. Gertrude wrote two biographies, but was widely quoted as saying, “I don’t contemplate life. I live it.”
She died in 2000 at the age of 97.

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