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Madison resident Timothy K. Smith shares his recently released book about D-Day with his daughter Lucy. (Photo courtesy of Tim Smith )
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Tim Smith’s most recent project, co-authoring a book about a secret mission during World War II’s D-Day, brought together a host of his interests and past experiences. Tim, published under Timothy K. Smith, and Daniel C. Guiet published Scholars of Mayhem: My Father’s Secret War in Nazi-Occupied France in June, telling the story of Guiet’s father’s experiences during World War II.
Two years ago, Tim knew he wanted to begin working on a book, but he hadn’t settled on a topic. That’s when fate stepped in.
“Dan was a friend of a friend and we got to talking and come to find out that Dan is a wonderful guy in possession of great story,” says Tim.
When they first started talking, Tim was interested in Guiet’s story. Guiet had grown up on the beaches of a variety of remote islands and spent little time in school. It wasn’t until Dan was grown that he found out why—his dad was a CIA agent. While Tim was intrigued by this story, Guiet continued to explain his father’s past.
Tim explains that Guiet gave his dad an early computer when his dad was in his 70s and suggested his father write about his life, thinking that he would talk about his time in the CIA, but as much of his career was still classified, Guiet’s father, Jean Claude Guiet, began writing a different story.
“He was writing this extraordinary story about what happened to him in the second World War, which is how he entered clandestine service,” says Tim. “His father wrote a very gentle memoir so it was something his grandchildren could enjoy and Dan took it on himself to fill in the blanks. He traveled with father back to France to visit sites and went through old notebooks. He had this wealth of information and a great story, but because he’d never gone to school, he needed help so this wonderful story fell into my lap.”
According to the publisher’s website, penguinrandomhouse.com, Scholars of Mayhem: My Father’s Secret War in Nazi-Occupied France is the “astonishing untold story of the author’s father, the lone American on a four-person team of Allied secret agents dropped into Nazi-occupied France, whose epic feats of irregular warfare proved vital in keeping German tanks away from Normandy after D-Day.” The book is available at R.J. Julia Booksellers and on Amazon.
Behind the Lines
Tim learned that Jean Claude Guiet’s parents both taught French at a university and Jean Claude Guiet was bilingual. As a Harvard freshman about to flunk out, Guiet was drafted and once in the service, someone heard him speaking French and told him they had a special assignment for him.
“They took him to England to train with Churchill’s secret army as a secret agent,” says Tim. “They then dropped him and three others deep in heart of France day after D-Day to stop an entire division from moving north to the Normandy beaches and they pulled it off.”
The story intrigued Tim for many reasons. In high school, Tim decided to spend a year in France as an exchange student during the late ’70s. He became intrigued by the country and its politics, wondering why 30 percent of the country was still voting with the communist party at that time.
He was so interested in the topic that he went on to study French history at Brown University, writing his thesis about France and the history of its left wing politics.
“It turned out be a pretty good foundation for researching this book because the French communist party was a big part of the resistance,” says Tim. “Everyone in France knew they wanted to be rid of collaborators and there were communists fighting alongside socialists fighting alongside loyalists, but no one trusted each other. When they parachuted in, they had to recruit and train a ghost army and they did—an army of about 10,000. Unifying them was as much a political as a military job.”
Tim had always been interested in writing, noting that when he was young, he was influenced by New York Times columnist Russell Baker. The time spent writing his thesis laid the foundation for Tim’s post-college career.
After school, he got a job with a trade newspaper covering boilers. He then “got very lucky” and landed a job with the Wall Street Journal as it started its European edition, working out of Brussels where he “fell in love with long feature writing,” noting that the Journal was “a great place to do that.”
When the company downsized, he was recruited to revive Fortune magazine, working his way to the senior features editor. As the Internet took over, Fortune was downsized.
Drawn to Water
While Tim grew up in Manhattan, he is no stranger to the Connecticut shoreline. Growing up, he has fond memories of spending time at his grandmother’s house on the shoreline. Four years ago, he and his wife, Jennifer, were looking to relocate.
“We had fallen in love with Madison,” says Tim. “Our daughter [Lucy] had just reached school-age and we discovered the Country School, which is marvelous.”
One of his family’s favorite activities is spending time on the water. Tim’s father had always dreamed of being a tugboat captain on the East River and his family grew up enjoying boating, particularly on trips to Cape Cod. Tim’s interest in boats continued through adulthood and he built his first boat in a Manhattan apartment, a hobby he has enjoyed ever since.
“I’m part fish and can never be too far from the ocean,” says Tim, who also has two older children, Anthony and Isabel. “Our lawn is littered with boats and we spend a lot of time out on the water. Boat-building turns out to be a compulsive behavior. I’ve never been able to stop. Boatbuilders always ask each other ‘What’s your next boat?’”
Boat-building isn’t Tim’s only compulsion as he is already working on ideas or his next project. While he can’t yet reveal the subject for his next project, he is excited to share Jean Claude Guiet’s previously untold story with the world.
“I’ve always loved historiography—history become more interesting when you ask the question of who’s telling the story, so I felt very lucky to be in possession of so much detail that Dan had gathered and his father had left in his memoir,” says Tim. “The details made it possible to write the a story that has the pacing of a thriller. It’s a very fortunate circumstance to come into possession of the elements you need to build a story that’s true, that took place at a significant historical moment, D-Day, and that hasn’t been told before and is all factual. It’s a remarkably fortunate thing you run into as an author.
“I liked everything about this job—the additional research that had to be done, getting to spend so much time with a subject that you can really crawl inside and understand thoroughly,” adds Tim. “Plus working at home in Madison in bare feet and not having to go the office is amazing.”
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