At first the veteran of the Great War does not want to talk about it. "It is 60 years. It is so far," he says, his accent still profoundly French though he has lived half his life in the United States.
"I have not thought about 1918 since 1918. I look to the future. You open this part of my past."
But, yes, he says, he will be going to the ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier today, as he does on Armistice Day every year. And as he talks on it becomes clear that Washington builder louis Montague, like so many Americans, French and British of his generation, has never lost that part of him that fought three years against the kaiser. He still carries within him the teen-ager, the man, who loved the fight.
"I couldn't see enough of the war," he says finally, his bushy gray eyebrows lifting as a smile crosses his 80-year-old face. "I was enlisted when I was 17. You are three miles from the front and you don't see anything. I wanted to see the war!"
At first he served in heavy artillery, but that was not close enough, so he transferred to trench mortars.
"You are only a few hundred yards from the enemy, you know, with such a machine like that and it makes a lot of noise. You make a good target." On April 17, 1917, he remembers, he caught a bullet in the stomach.
"I had been wounded but the army decided not to relieve me. They wanted to make me noncombat. But I decided to go into the air force."
It is in talking of those last days of the war - the day's he spent in the air or waiting to fly - that Montague realy opens up to his listener.
He is modest about it, sometimes almost cynical. He likes to say that the one thing he remembers most is "Waiting for something to do." But he is smiling almost all the time.
"You see," says Montague, "people figure that in war exciting happens every day. That is not true - fortunately - because if it were, everybody would be dead."
The finally, he explains how it was that he won't the "Medaille Militaire" just two weeks before the armistice. It was, he remembers, Oct, 29, 1918.
He was flying the Breguet, a twinwinged mainstay of the French air force used as a bomber and an observation plane. He was about 15 miles behing German lines on a photographic mission when his observer tapped him on the shoulder and pointed up at four triwinged fighters coming in for the attack.
"We were supposed to have had some protection, but they never showed up, so we had decided to go anyways."
He pushed down the nose of his plane to gain greater speed and keep the Germans from getting beneath him. "Happily, they were not any faster than we were.
"My observer, Capt. Adrian was fantastic. He was a great shot. I had watched him cutting bottles in half with his handgun." When the Germans attacked, Adrian would guide Montague by touching his shoulders, telling him how to position the plane to get better aim.
"We shot one down, and that quieted them down," Monatague says matter-of-factly. By that time the chase had taken them back above French and American lines and the other German planes abandoned the fight.
But Montague's Breguet was in flames, and with a shrug to say "but not wearing a parachute. "I was very lucky to get out . . . Instead of cutting everything on board, their bullets could have cut us also."
There was no way for him to get the plane back to the field at Luneville, so he landed it between two trees. Adrian leaped out and then, Montague, just as the ammunition they carried began to explode.
On Armistice Day, Nov. 11, 1918, he remembers, he was still in the hospital recovering from burns on his legs. "They carried us out into the court and we drank champagne."
It was, as Montague likes to say, "so far away, all these things." Six decades ago today. The world, the wars have changed immeasurably.
"Yes," says Montague, the battles he fought were part of the last heroic war, the last gentleman's war, perhaps. At least for fliers. "With modern weapons, missiles, people shoot at great distance. You don't even see. The new weapons you have make individual action extremely limited."
And then, too, as Montague remembers it, there was honor. "There was a lot of respect between the aviators of both countries. We would never shot one on the ground."
But Montague will not call himself a hero, will not talk even about the two Croix de Guerre he earned, and in fact, he says he was never treated like a hero by anybody else.
His own glory in the war was lost in the France of the 1920s, a country numbed by the sheer weight of its losses and deluged with other, more significant men than himself.
"The aces of World War I were like movie actors. They were so different from the rest of us. But there were very many of them, and the French aviation was huge in 1918. I was at the bottom of the sea . . .
"The people who make the war got very little recognition in France for a long, long time. There were one and a half million killed. There were some wounded five and six times." There were too many heroes.
Now, there are only a few left, Americans and French, many of whom, like Montague, will join together to celebrate again today the anniversary to the armistice; to reminisce - some lost in their memories, some like Montague almost suspicious of them - and then go back to their lives of the present.
Montague will return to his business, running it from the office in his Rock Creek Hotel on Belmont Road NW. And he goes back to flying. At age 80 he still takes a Cessna up once in a while, just for fun.
As a visitor says goodbye to him at the door of his hotel, Montague leaves little doubt that he is, indeed, looking to the future - except that, perhaps forgetting himself for a second, he salutes before shaking hands. CAPTION: Picture 1, LOUIS MONTAGUE, . . . "so far away, all these things"; Picture 2, The Breguet biplane flown in combat by Louis Montague in World War I. "Combat Aircraft of the World" Copyright (c) 1969, George Rainbird Ltd.