Veteran Stories:
André Courtemanche

Army

  • André Courtemanche during the Korean War, Christmas, 1953.

    André Courtemanche
  • André Courtemanche visiting his familiy one last time before his departure overseas in England, April, 1940.

    André Courtemanche
  • André Courtemanche stands with a fellow soldier on leave in Italy, September 1944.

    André Courtemanche
  • André Courtemanche in England, May 1942.

    André Courtemanche
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"You can’t tell them anything because you don’t have the heart to do it. You’re afraid of being called a liar, of being called a… You know what I mean."

Transcript

We landed with hardly any losses. In the beginning, the Italians were holding the coast and they weren’t up for fighting at all. The first day, we took fifteen thousand prisoners. They were lining up to surrender. It wasn’t the same when the Germans decided to pay us a visit, but we were ready for it. We weren’t prepared for the German tactics, though; because, with the terrain, with this and that… Their soldiers had been involved in a lot of campaigns. They were used to it and that made a difference. Right away, they surprised us in the middle of the night, which was pretty much everyone’s fear. There were about twenty casualties, injured and killed, right off the bat. We were caught in a mousetrap, like amateurs. We had trained for three years and all that, years and years. Stamina, sure! But tactics, that’s what we didn’t have. Well, we had some, but… The temperature changed during the month of October, at the beginning of October. We were deep into Italy when the bad weather started. It was hell, water and mud everywhere. We put huge planks under the tracks of the assault vehicles during the night, or to park them, since they got stuck in no time at all. It was truly hellish. It was cold, and we were underdressed and underfed. You know what I mean. When they said they were sending us to rest, it wasn’t exactly resting. More than that, the houses were destroyed, they didn’t have any roofs left – there weren’t roofs to be seen anywhere –because mortars fell on them, destroying the tile rooftops. Despite that, we got support. Food, that was easier. Instead of eating canned corned beef, they made us something to eat. Something warm, once a day. It was better than nothing. [Later in the war, in Holland:] They told us somewhere around 4 o’clock in the morning that the war was ending; it would be over at midnight. The same day. Why not stop right away, you know? We wondered why we didn’t stop then, before we died? We didn’t think about that. We didn’t believe it. We had come close so many times. It’s five years of your life in constant upheaval, in transformation, whatever you want to call it. Nothing was the same, the world wasn’t the same, even my parents weren’t the same. Nothing was the same, do you understand? Jumping back in, you know what I mean, wasn’t the same, not at all, not the same. People didn’t speak to each other in the same way, a thousand and one things [were different]. You can’t tell them anything because you don’t have the heart to do it. You’re afraid of being called a liar, of being called a… You know what I mean. Because the news, and censorship, had cut us off from our parents for five years.
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