Pierre Simonet, who died Thursday aged 99, was one of just over a thousand resistance fighters decorated by Charles de Gaulle, who rallied the defeated French forces from London after Germany's 1940 invasion of the country.
His death comes just a few months after that of another wartime hero, Edgard Tupet-Thome, leaving just two men as living links to one of the most wrenching chapters in France's history.
“The president honours the life of this man driven by the love of liberty who, transcending risks and borders, was always guided by his immense love of France,” the Elysee said in a statement released shortly after midnight.
Profonde tristesse à l'annonce du décès de Pierre Simonet, l’un des 3 derniers Compagnons de la Libération. Paris, commune Compagnon de la Libération, salue ce héros de la France Libre. J'adresse mes sincères condoléances à sa famille et à ses proches. https://t.co/5LRGGqpA5A
— Anne Hidalgo (@Anne_Hidalgo) November 6, 2020
Born in Hanoi before arriving with his family in France when he was five, Simonet rejoined De Gaulle and asked to be a pilot despite his lack of a license. Instead he was asked to use his maths studies to help form artillery battalions for the Free French Forces (FFL).
But he eventually got his flying wish, becoming a spotter during Operation Dragoon that debarked for the Italy campaign in 1944, in which French forces made up the bulk of the Allied force.
By the end of the war, “he had chalked up 250 flight hours and 137 missions, earning him five distinctions and his designation as a Companion of the Liberation on December 27, 1945,” the presidency said.
And in June 1945, as a huge crowd gathered for a victory parade on the Champs-Elysee in Paris, Simonet had an idea to mark the occasion that would earn him a cherished place in aviation history.
After flying over the famed avenue in his Piper Cub, Simonet asked his fellow flyers: “How about we go underneath the Eiffel Tower?”
Wisely not asking his superiors for permission, Simonet and the others carried off the feat to the astonishment of onlookers.
“For us, rebels from the first hour, we had to do something out of the ordinary,” he said in a 2015 interview.
Simonet would go on to have a long career in international public service, including roles at the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).