Charles de Gaulle
Charles de Gaulle was the dominant political leader and grand figurehead of France during and after World War II. De Gaulle was a career soldier in the French Army who had been wounded and held prisoner during World War I. He rose to the rank of general and was serving as France's minister for National Defense and War in June, 1940, when France capitulated to Germany early in World War II. Charles DeGaulle escaped to Britain, where he made a famous broadcast calling on the French people to resist (earning him the nickname of the "Man of June 18, 1940"). DeGaulle formed the Free French forces and led the provisional government that ruled France after it was retaken from Germany. After the war he was elected head of the French government, but left the post in 1946 and formed a new political party, the Rassemblement du Peuple Francais (Rally of the People of France, or RPF). Charles DeGaulle was in and out of politics until 1958, when he was called to form a government amid political chaos in France. He oversaw the constitutional reforms that led to the Fifth Republic of France, and became the first president of the new Republic in 1959. Proud, stubborn, and charismatic, he insisted on France's right to pursue an independent path from both Europe and the United States. He also settled France's difficult relations with its Algerian territory by granting self-determination to Algeria. He served as president for just over a decade until stepping down in April of 1969. He died the next year at age 79.