Gnassingbe Eyadéma was born on 26 December 1937, at Pya, in the northern region of Togo. His father was a peasant who died at an early age. Eyadéma was raised by his mother and other relatives. Though he enrolled at a mission elementary school, he dropped out to join the French colonial army in neighboring Dahomey (now Benin) in 1953. His military career took him overseas to fight in French colonial wars in Indochina and Algeria. During the course of these campaigns, he rose to the rank of sergeant. He later served in Niger before the French colonial army was demobilized in 1963.