The French government is to press ahead with the prosecution of the captain in charge of its infamous North African ‘Lost Legion'.
And, if convicted of the charge of desertion, France may well have to use the guillotine for the first time in 45 years…to execute a man who is nearly 90.
Jacque Leboeuf was in command of a platoon of 35 French Foreign Legionnaires that went missing on the Tunsian-Libyan border in 1944 when hostilities with Germany's Afrika Korp were at their height. The soldiers were presumed killed in action, until six, including their officer, were discovered alive and well in August 2004.
In an international headline-grabbing tale, it emerged that the Legionnaires had kept guard for 60 years over a secret ammunition dump at a remote oasis. The six survivors, now well into their 80s, had survived on a diet of dates and camel milk, mixed with copious amounts of sand for roughage.
Initially hailed as forgotten heroes, further scrutiny of the bizarre marathon tour of duty raised questions as to whether the men had valiantly stood in defence of France's supplies or had, in fact, hidden from the ‘le bosch'.
Now evidence before the judiciary has forced the Government's hand to have the tale unfold in open court and not behind the closed doors of a military court martial.
"There has been so much public interest in this tale," explained Justice Minister Conrad Peppier, "that the truth must be laid before the French people and justice seen to be done."
Captain Leboeuf, an astonishingly sprightly 88-year-old, was the toast of Paris when the Legionnaires returned to their homeland, hitting the front pages of all the national newspapers and making a number of guest appearances on television and radio talk shows.
Interest peaked again when the soldiers' back pay was calculated - with each in line to collect well in excess of 1.5m euros ($2.1m).
However, investigations by France's top-selling tabloid, Le Mensonge, revealed that there might well be more to the story than loyal, dedicated service.
Interviews with elders in the Sahel Bedouin tribes, who lead their caravans through the area where the Legionnaires were found, recounted tales of rowdy fennec fox races, gambling and casual sex with women on English tour parties.
The tribesmen also claimed it became a tradition to shout ‘the Germans are coming' at the Legionnaires when they passed by the encampment and watch the soldiers scuttle for cover in their sand hideaways.