The unique life of The Blade’s voice in Europe; For nearly 40 years, Fernand Auberjonois brought the world to Toledo

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

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BANDON, IRELAND — When Fernand Auberjonois does his daily shopping around the narrow little streets of this Irish town, he gets a polite nod and a “yes, sir” from the girls who work in the shops.

It’s to be expected: He’s 89, and at that advanced age, he combines the grace and bearing of a duke with the easy smile and rumbling chuckle of a favorite uncle.

But the shopkeepers probably don’t know the real reasons he deserves their respect.

They probably don’t know that the nice old man who lives in the cottage down by Enniskeane helped plan the Normandy invasion in World War II or that he was targeted by Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the redbaiting 1950s.

They don’t know that he helped start what would evolve into the Voice of America or that he is one of the best-selling authors in Switzerland.

And they almost certainly don’t know that, for nearly four decades, he brought the world to the people of Toledo.

For nearly four decades, Mr. Auberjonois was The Blade’s European correspondent, traveling hundreds of thousands of miles to write about the news of the world.

But his time with The Blade was just one part of a unique life that put him in touch with some of the biggest names and events of the century.

Today, most Americans who know the Auberjonois name associate it with his son, Rene, a noted actor famous for his roles on Benson and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. But to colleagues in London, it can only mean Fernand, one of the most respected American journalists Britain has seen.

The man himself would blush at that. Exceedingly modest, he claims that his life is not worth examination and that his successes have been the result of decades worth of lucky breaks. But his modesty cannot hide one of the 20th century’s most remarkable lives. He saw the century up close, with dignity and style.

“With Fernand, you would have thought he was the New York Times bureau chief, because he knew everybody, he was respected by everybody, and he was liked by everybody,” said William Tuohy, a Pulitzer Prize winner for his reporting in Vietnam who became the Los Angeles Times’s London correspondent in 1977. “He kind of represented journalism at its best as a foreign correspondent.”


Fernand Auberjonois was born outside Lausanne, Switzerland, Sept. 25, 1910, into a home that valued creativity. His father was Rene Auberjonois, remembered to this day as one of Switzerland’s greatest men. He was mostly renowned as an Impressionist painter, but he collaborated with Igor Stravinsky on “A Soldier’s Tale” and translated James Joyce into French as a hobby well into his 70s.

With artists, poets, and writers as regular guests at the dinner table, it was natural that young Fernand would move into writing.

His father was a close friend of one of Switzerland’s greatest writers, Charles-Ferdinand Ramuz, and one day Fernand asked him how one wrote. “First, you write what you see and what you know,” came the answer. “Then you write what you imagine.” He was convinced that he would be a writer.

But the elder Mr. Auberjonois had been convinced by a paleontologist friend that young Fernand should be trained as a geologist. Father won the battle. “I was not consulted,” young Fernand said. But the only jobs offered after his schooling were in Soviet Russia and the Belgian Congo, and neither appealed. He dreamt of a life elsewhere.

“The dream of any young man was to go to America,” he said. “I felt very constricted and surrounded by other nations in Switzerland.” Hitler was on the rise, and Fernand knew the time was right to cross the Atlantic.

He needed an invitation from an American, so he pretended to be engaged to a young woman from St. Louis who had been attending finishing school in Switzerland. He sold his motorcycle to buy a one-way ticket and in August, 1933, set off for the New World, dreaming of adventure.


On the ship, a slow German steamer, he met German-Americans who had traveled to their homeland and were shocked by the rise of hate they had seen. “It made me feel like I truly wanted a new continent.”

It was the beginning of the strong but sometimes tortured bond between Mr. Auberjonois and America. The ideal of America was irresistible to him: the openness, the freedom, the possibilities for starting over. But throughout his life, America’s reality, from McCarthyism to the Vietnam War, often disgusted him.

His father had promised to help Fernand make his way for a year and sent small monthly checks for that time. But, just as he’d promised, they stopped in 1934, and Fernand, without a work permit, started taking small, illegal jobs.

Today, he remembers his first few years in New York fondly, a time full of exciting uncertainty. One of his first jobs was tutoring French. For several months, one of his clients, twice a week, was a young woman just getting started in the movie business who needed to learn some French for a movie rendition of Joan of Arc. Her name: Katharine Hepburn. (Decades later, his son, Rene, would win a Tony for his work in Broadway’s Coco, appearing opposite Miss Hepburn.)

Fernand even had a chance to use his science skills when he performed a series of experiments for Leon Theremin, the Russian scientist who had invented the theremin, the world’s first electronic musical instrument, which since has become a staple of quite a few rock bands. For weeks he sat alone in a rented room with the thing, trying to discover how it worked.

He fell in love with New York: its bustle, its ethnic villages, its sense of growth and excitement. With his charm and elegance, he managed to make friends with some of the city’s most talented and powerful.

Partly because of his father’s credentials, Mr. Auberjonois was accepted into the artistic world of 1930s New York, where, he said, “one just met people in those days.” He became close to John Dos Passos, the novelist, and translated some of his short stories into French. He got to know Walker Evans, the photographer, sometimes borrowing his car to get around. For a time he worked as secretary to Ernest Ansermet, the great Swiss conductor.


But he still wanted to be a writer, and while he had free-lanced several pieces for Swiss magazines, it wasn’t until he ran into a Frenchman in a restaurant that journalism became his full-time job. The Frenchman was an editor at Havas, the French wire service now known as Agence France-Presse, and Mr. Auberjonois told him he was interested in writing. (“Actually,” he admits, “I was interested in anything: gravedigger, whatever.”)

The editor hired him at $45 a week, mostly to interview such cultural figures as Stravinsky and to work the overnight shift at Havas’s headquarters on Park Avenue. But no matter the hours, the job got his journalism career going, and when the young National Broadcasting Company was looking for someone who spoke French for a new project in 1937, he was ready.

With Hitler firmly in control in Germany, Europe was being flooded with Nazi propaganda on radio stations across the continent. With encouragement from Washington, NBC decided to begin its first regular transatlantic broadcast: a twice-daily shortwave broadcast to the French. Mr. Auberjonois had no radio experience, but NBC decided he had the skills to host L’Heure Francaise.

So he began hosting the show, which became quite a hit in France. It was mostly music, but the sound of a French voice coming from so far away was heartening to many. The broadcasts became even more important after France fell to the Nazis in June, 1940; for many, they were a solitary lifeline to the free West.

During every broadcast, he asked the French to send letters if they could hear his words, and he was swamped with mail.

NBC decided to publish one such set of letters from an anonymous female listener, describing life under German rule.

“We … anxiously await your daily program from America,” the woman wrote. “And when I say we, I mean the millions of Frenchmen who listen to your broadcasts and are at last able to relax – and breathe freely!

“Each evening, your voice (friendly and so familiar that one almost knows when you are tired or happy) brings us the authentic news which we crave, and honest words which comfort us, make us stand up straighter, and raise our hopes. I can find no words to say how much good you do us…. You seem to know much better than we what is going on here: What we think, hope, suffer, and hide.”

The collection was called “France Speaks to America,” and it somehow found its way into the hands of Gen. William “Wild Bill” Donovan, the future founder of the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of what would become the Central Intelligence Agency.

General Donovan met with Mr. Auberjonois and asked him to join the fight against Germany by joining the Military Intelligence Service.


Shortly after Pearl Harbor, Mr. Auberjonois became a naturalized American citizen so he could join the Army. (He was naturalized alongside two convicted criminals and mistakenly got a stern lecture from the judge performing the ceremony about the evils of drugs.)

His first job was to head for the northern shore of Lake Ontario, where he enrolled in the top-secret Camp X, the British intelligence service’s camp to train Americans to become, in his words, “skilled, professional terrorists.” He learned how to blow up railroad tracks, spy on government agencies, and communicate in codes. To complete the course, he had to write a paper on “how I would set up a resistance network in a given country under enemy occupation.”

He was one of the school’s first graduates; the camp also taught a young Ian Fleming the spycraft he would later put to use in his James Bond novels.

Shortly thereafter he set out on the battleship USS Texas, which had been equipped with a small radio studio. His job was to broadcast clandestine messages on the frequencies of French radio stations. When American forces landed in French Algeria, he said, “I was telling the French, ‘Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot!'”

His work brought him appointment as one of Gen. George Patton’s four top aides. After the North Africa landing, he was ordered to go to the offices of Radio Maroc, a pro-German radio station in Rabat, Morocco, and seize it. So, soon enough, radio listeners in North Africa were hearing the mellifluous voice of Fernand Auberjonois.

Once North Africa was safe – he also set up Allied radio operations in Algeria and Tunisia – he was shipped to England to help prepare for the Normandy landing.

History buffs know the Germans were surprised on D-Day because their intelligence had led them to believe the landing would come at Calais, the closest point to England. That’s partly due to Mr. Auberjonois, who worked on a vast effort to convince the Germans that Calais was where the action would be.

He had to prepare “secret” documents detailing the Allied plans for a Calais invasion, then allow them to “accidentally” reach the enemy. He had loud fake conversations with fellow agents in bars where he knew German agents spent their time, saying things like, “Oh, it’ll be wonderful to see Calais again! In just a few short weeks!” He spread rumors to those he knew had become double agents for the Germans.

Throughout his life, Mr. Auberjonois has been noted for his European charm; it certainly came in handy in moments like these.

It was a dangerous operation, but the work of men like him eventually convinced the Germans to concentrate their forces around Calais. Mr. Auberjonois jokes about his role now – “It was just a big gossip operation” – but it played a significant part in the Allies’ successful landing and eventual victory.

Two days after D-Day he too landed on Normandy and was put in charge of interrogating prisoners. As American forces pushed inland, he was asked to inform the newly free French of what was happening, but there was no newsprint, electricity, or staff. He somehow put together the resources, in only two days to publish La Presse Cherbourgeoise, the first free newspaper of liberated France.


Barely two months later he was in Paris, setting up headquarters for the western press that was reaching the city. The building with which he was given to work was a former brothel, so he had to explain the mirrors on the ceilings to men such as Ernest Hemingway and A.J. Liebling.

“I always say that the only part of Paris I liberated was the bar at the Ritz Hotel,” he said. “The champagne was free, but they took American dollars for anything else you wanted.”

After Paris he joined the First French Army at the German front. One day, in the final winter of the war, he found himself not far from the Swiss border. He called ahead to his father and secured a day pass to return to Switzerland to see him for the first time since a brief return to Switzerland in 1936.

“It had been a rather nasty winter on that front,” he said, “and I didn’t look particularly healthy.” Wearing a large raincoat to cover his U.S. Army uniform, he met his father near the border, in the small town of Boncour: the old world meeting the new.

“My father was not a very emotional man,” he said. “This is one of the reasons I immigrated. But on that occasion, I think he was quite moved. It was quite unique for me. I had never seen him in an emotional state.”

He crossed the border, where his father embraced him. “We went into each other’s arms.”

For his actions during the war, Mr. Auberjonois was awarded the U.S. Legion of Merit, France’s Croix de Guerre with four citations, and Poland’s Polonia Restituta. In 1982, the French government made him a chevalier of the Legion of Honor, an honor similar to British knighthood. He also achieved the rank of major in the U.S. Army.

Shortly after the war, a friend at Time-Life asked Mr. Auberjonois to test a theory, “to go back to Europe and do a survey on whether one could launch an English-language magazine in Paris and whether it would sell on the continent.”

At the time European English readers outside England had few options. “I did the research, and I came back saying that I doubted very much that you could make it work at all. They also asked me to do a survey on whether Reader’s Digest would be popular if translated into different languages, and I said it was impossible.

“On all accounts, I was totally wrong,” he laughed.

Even so, the bosses at Time-Life hired Mr. Auberjonois to be publishing director of new editions of Time and Life for Europe. His name was on the title page every week for the 18 months he kept the job. “I had a beautiful office on Place de la Concorde,” he said. “I had the best view in Paris.”

Although he had spent most of his life abroad, Mr. Auberjonois considered himself an American, and he wanted his children to be raised as Americans. So he moved back to the New York area, living in a variety of small towns surrounding the city. In 1950, he wrote a French-language book entitled Mon Village, U.S.A. about life in small-town America.


He went back to work for NBC until its French service was subsumed by the newly founded Voice of America. It wasn’t long before the specter of Sen. Joseph McCarthy loomed over the VOA.

It was a natural target of the Wisconsin Republican and his constant hunt for communists in the State Department. It had a number of employees born overseas, recruited for their language skills, and they were in the business of American propaganda.

“If you were foreign-born and had an accent, you were a target,” said Robert Bauer, 89, a member of the VOA’s German desk at the time and a target of Senator McCarthy. “They picked out a few of us and said we were broadcasting pro-communist programs. They never found anything on any of us.”

On Feb. 28, 1953, Mr. Auberjonois was called to testify before the senator’s subcommittee in executive session. He, like others at the VOA, had been accused of refusing to broadcast anti-communist material. In addition, he had been on the French desk when it broadcast a review of Witness, a book by Whittaker Chambers, a former communist agent. The woman who had written the review later claimed she was fired because her review was too anti-communist for her left-leaning bosses.

Mr. Auberjonois was grilled by Roy Cohn, the senator’s famous assistant, who went on to a career as one of America’s least-admired men: a Machiavellian communist-hunting lawyer who was both homophobic and anti-Semitic, despite being both gay and Jewish.

In the end no subversion was ever found at the Voice of America. But like many of his fellow VOA employees, Mr. Auberjonois left government service in disgust at the witch-hunt. He had defended his adoptive country in war, and now his allegiance was being questioned by men out to ruin careers.

“Everyone figured that it was a good time to be out of government service and to do something else for a while,” he said.

He and a group of fellow State Department employees then co-founded what would become a unit of Hill & Knowlton International, the New York public-relations firm. He handled press relations for the Suez Canal shortly before the crisis at the canal in 1956.

Then one day the phone rang.

“I got a telephone call from a gentleman from Toledo, Ohio,” he remembered, “who said, ‘Mr. Block would like to have lunch with you.'”


It was Paul Block, Jr., The Blade’s co-publisher. Mr. Block was looking for someone to be the paper’s foreign correspondent. Since 1953 the paper had put one of its reporters, Blair Bolles, in Paris to watch European affairs. But Mr. Block wanted a new face in Europe, and he was scouring the globe to find one.

“I asked him, ‘Who on earth told you that I existed?'” Mr. Auberjonois said. “He said, ‘Oh, I met a good friend of yours in Geneva one day, and he said that if you’re looking for a correspondent, ask Fernand Auberjonois – he might be interested.”

Mr. Block asked Mr. Auberjonois to go with some of the paper’s reporters to the Democratic National Convention to see if he liked what he saw. After the convention he visited Toledo and was impressed with the paper and the city.

“I was so well received in Toledo,” he said. “I thought it was such a friendly place, and I decided that to represent one city in the Middle West was much more interesting to me than to be part of a large organization.”

After the trauma of McCarthyism, it seemed like a good time to leave America for a while. He told Mr. Block he’d be happy to take the job.

“From then on, I represented the Toledo Blade in Europe,” he said. “And everyone thought I was working for a paper in Spain.”

Mr. Auberjonois took over an office on the second floor in the London headquarters of Reuters, the wire service. His office was right next door to the Baltimore Sun’s and not far from the Chicago Tribune’s.

Mr. Block, a great Francophile, had wanted the Blade bureau to remain in Paris, in part, Mr. Auberjonois said, because “whenever he had reason to come visit me in the bureau, it would be in Paris, which would be for him very pleasant.”

But Mr. Auberjonois insisted on London, because he knew the stories that would have come out of Paris would have been less interesting to Toledo readers than those from London. “In Paris I would have gone native,” he said. “I would have become fascinated by French politics, which is far too complex and detailed for the [American] audience to be terribly interested in.”

It was highly unusual for a medium-size paper like The Blade to have a foreign correspondent in either city. Throughout most of Mr. Auberjonois’s time abroad, only six other American cities had newspapers with full-time reporters overseas: New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, Baltimore, and Boston.

“I was quite amazed to see the Toledo Blade in London,” said Dave Mason, 77, the former London bureau chief of the Associated Press. “It was highly unusual for a paper that size.”

Clearly Mr. Auberjonois was ideal for the job: He was a published writer in French and English and spoke German, Spanish, and Italian. But The Blade’s editors decided something had to be done about that name.

They feared “Auberjonois” would be too difficult for Americans to pronounce. So they took the first letter of his first name and the first five of his last to create “Fauber,” and he became known as Fernand Fauber, a name he disdains to this day.

(When in 1966 he finally convinced editors to give him back his given name, Mr. Auberjonois wrote a mock obituary for Mr. Fauber. “He was just an alias, and living with an alias is even more irritating than living with oneself,” he wrote. “An alias is like a roommate who steals your socks, one by one. The damage isn’t noticed until late in the term. Now it is late in the term.”)

By any byline, Mr. Auberjonois certainly had lots of news to cover. In the aftermath of World War II, western Europe was busy rebuilding itself and figuring out its proper place in a world that was suddenly divided in two.

He covered some of the most important events of the last 50 years. He was in Berlin on the day the wall dividing east and west went up and was nearby when President Kennedy famously said, “Ich bin ein Berliner.” He covered nearly every major political gathering from NATO meetings to superpower summits.


And he saw humans at their worst – in war. As he wrote in 1985: “I have seen quite a number of people killed, innocent and otherwise. I have heard the loud bang of plastic bombs. I don’t think violence makes very good writing. There is a certain monotony about killing.”

In one year, 1960, he traveled more than 50,000 miles, including a six-week trip to India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Afghanistan for a series called “Behind the Bamboo Curtain.”

The job of a foreign correspondent is as broad as they come; one day he might cover a superpower summit, the next a fashion show. And over the years Mr. Auberjonois covered them all, but he did find a few areas of specialization.

One was western European politics. For those looking back at the history of the Cold War, it’s easy to picture Europe neatly divided at the Berlin Wall, American allies on one side, Soviet on the other. In fact, it wasn’t that neat. Socialist governments ran several western nations, and the Communist Party was a very real power in France and Italy. At times, many western Europeans considered the United States as big a threat to international security as the Soviet Union.

Mr. Auberjonois was keenly interested in British (and, to a lesser extent, French) politics and wrote often about the machinations of political parties and personalities. He developed an excellent network of sources that kept him apprised of what was going on.

During his time in London, British governments had an on-and-off tradition of holding a weekly off-the-record briefing for all American correspondents. Next to their own British press, UK officials considered the American press the most important in the world, and the weekly briefing was a symbol of that consideration.

During the 11 years Margaret Thatcher was prime minister, the man who led those briefings was Sir Bernard Ingham, Lady Thatcher’s press secretary.

“Those briefings were some of the most enjoyable things I did,” said Sir Bernard, whose son is a Bowling Green State University graduate.

“My professional relationship with Fernand turned into a personal friendship. Our briefings were a private debating society.”

Having been in London since 1956, Mr. Auberjonois was now the dean of the American press corps in London, and that informal position had its privileges.

At the briefings, Sir Bernard would usually sit in a chair next to his office’s nonfunctioning fireplace. By common consent, Mr. Tuohy said, Mr. Auberjonois would get the easy chair on the opposite side of the fireplace, while most of the other reporters would be stuck with folding chairs.

Like the legendary Helen Thomas at White House press conferences, Mr. Auberjonois was always given the honor of asking the first question. “Even though his questioning could be tough, it was always done so gracefully that it never alienated the press secretaries,” Mr. Tuohy said. “He was one of the best political reporters in London. Fernand was extremely good at eliciting what – behind the official statements – was really happening.”

But over the years he wrote less and less about politics – “which I feared the audience in Toledo was uninterested in” – and more and more about people.


Throughout his years in Europe he mixed his straight reporting with what the paper called “Letters from London.” These pieces, often personal, skipped over the rulers to talk about the quotidian matters of everyday life: What happens when someone has a great fall in a posh club, or the importance of having the proper accent on the BBC.

He wrote them sparingly while a full-time working correspondent, but in his later years, particularly after his official retirement in 1983, they became more common.

When he was searching for a new place to live in 1985, he wrote: “Having lived in these parts 30 years, I know that ‘quaint’ means unheated and that ‘historic’ applies to the plumbing or to a thatched roof swarming with mice.”

British culture was as frequent a target for his humor as his own life.

In 1974 he noted the collective yawn from Europe when Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s home run record. The London papers dutifully acknowledged the event, explaining that “the home run is the equivalent of a six in cricket, where the batsman hits the ball over the boundary.”

Mr. Auberjonois added: “The great Babe Ruth is sometimes mistaken for a female cabaret singer, but only rarely, because so few opportunities arise of explaining who he was.”


Through everything he wrote he maintained a formal, yet conversational, style. Mr. Block once said he considered Mr. Auberjonois the best writer The Blade had.

“He had a great reputation for being the best example you could ever find of a great journalist who showed great style, as a human being as well as a professional,” said Myron Belkind, the current AP London bureau chief.

“He could mingle with heads of government as well as the proverbial man and woman in the street. In my 40-plus years as a journalist, he stands out as very unique in the most positive of ways.”

“I thought he was extremely ‘old world,'” Mr. Tuohy, the Pulitzer Prize winner, said. “Gallant, very well dressed, with beautiful manners, and as smart as a whip. And he could spot a phony when he saw one.”

His fellow correspondents showed their regard for him by making him president of the Association of American Correspondents in London. Upon his retirement he was named a lifetime member.

After Mr. Auberjonois’s days of press conferences and frequent flying were over, a friend put him in touch with a Swiss publisher, Editions Metropolis. Over the years, he has written a weekly column for a Swiss newspaper, and an editor at Metropolis, Michele Stroun, believed that a book about his life could sell a few copies.

Mr. Auberjonois started working on his memoirs, first in English, then in French. In 1993, his publishers put out Entre Deux Mondes, or Between Two Worlds. It chronicled the remarkable story of his life up to 1956 and concludes with his hiring at The Blade.

It was an immediate success. It topped the Swiss bestseller list for weeks and went through three editions. It got rave reviews from newspapers in Switzerland and France for its modesty and the remarkable story it told.

Since then he has kept writing. He put together another volume of his memoirs in 1994, followed by books on London and Ireland. Entre Deux Mondes has been reissued. Last year Metropolis published a new book, De Chittagong a Cork, a volume of short memories from his ancestors and throughout his life.

“His books have sold very well,” Ms. Stroun said. “He has wonderful reviews always, and people love his books.”

Since there are only about 1.5 million French-speaking Swiss, the market for books there is limited. “I still hope the French will discover him, but they are much slower,” Ms. Stroun lamented.

Mr. Auberjonois has become a significant figure in the country he left more than 60 years ago. Another Swiss publishing house has republished a short book he wrote in 1950 on Fire Island, New York, to take advantage of the increasing interest in Mr. Auberjonois’s life.

“Now he’s considered among the top writers in Switzerland,” Ms. Stroun said. “He will be regarded as highly for his writing as his father was for his painting.”

(Mr. Auberjonois has published only one book in English, 1980’s Top Dog, a tongue-in-cheek memoir supposedly written by his pet dog.)


After spending decades in London, he and his wife, Helga – whom he met in the 1960s when they both worked in the Reuters building – decided to trade in city life for a small cottage in southern Ireland three years ago. “It’s a sacrifice for my wife, who loves London, but I enjoy Ireland,” he said.

Over the years, for tax reasons, being an American citizen living abroad has cost him a significant amount of money, as some of his income was taxed twice. It would have been very easy for him to get a Swiss passport and end the double taxing. But despite the very real cost, he never considered giving up his American citizenship.

“Oh, no, it’s very precious to me,” he said. “Everything I did was for my American citizenship, and my American passport is the only one I want to keep.”

During the McCarthy hearings and other low points in modern American history, he sometimes wondered if he had made a mistake. “I got very discouraged about America, and I thought the country had become too worried, too afraid. To come back from a war and see loyalty questioned like that was extremely unpleasant.”

Oddly, after his lifelong love affair with America, he has chosen to live in yet another new homeland: Ireland. He has spent less than two decades of his long life in his adopted country.

His son, Rene, said that he has based some of his most famous characters partially on his father. On Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, he played Odo, an alien “shape shifter” who can assume different forms. Odo is rootless, with no memory of his past, changing his form as required by those around him, observing and commenting on his surroundings.

“Odo can seem gruff, a little bit too formal,” Rene said. “All of us Auberjonoises are known as charismatic grouches. But Odo has a real sense of honor and dignity, and that’s in part from my father. He’s been sort of the cornerstone of a lot of my characters.”

Odo’s rootlessness has been a running theme in the life of this Swissman who became an American, raised his children to be Americans, but has lived in London and Ireland. “I’m from nowhere now,” Mr. Auberjonois said. “I don’t think I’m of any country anymore.”

Mr. Auberjonois is 89 now, and he broke his femur during the summer in a fall while in Switzerland, but he is still sharp. He recently finished his latest book, a memoir of his war years, and his publisher is eagerly awaiting it.

Still he continues to insist that his life is unworthy of examination. “There is nothing interesting about my life,” he said.

In hindsight, many of Mr. Auberjonois’s amazing experiences were less than happy. From the landing at Normandy, to being the target of a communist witch-hunt, to covering wars hot and cold, his life often took him to situations of despair. He adopted a new homeland, only to have circumstances keep him away from it for decades.

But to understand his philosophy on dealing with bad times, take one look at something he said about his days as a young man in New York, when he was struggling to survive on odd jobs and the generosity of others.

“I never had the feeling I was having a hard time then, because it was all far too interesting,” he said. “That’s what life does.”