Veteran Stories:
André Therrien

Army

  • Lieutenant André Therrien receiving the Military Cross for bravery in Korea from His Excellency the Governor General of Canada Vincent Massey. The ceremony took place in front of 2nd Battalion, Le Royal 22e Régiment at Camp Valcartier, Quebec in summer 1952.

    André Therrien
  • Lieutenant Therrien (left), commanding officer of the Pioneer Platoon, poses with Captain Bouffard, commanding officer of A Company, 2nd Batalion, Le Royal 22e Régiment. Korea, Winter 1951-1952. As Mr. Therrien says, "The mustache is required."

    André Therrien
  • "Smilling at the 38th Parallel is important, even in December." Three officers of 2nd Battalion, Le Royal 22e Régiment near the Samich'on River in 1951. From left to right: Lieutenants McDuff, Therrien, and Plouffe.

    André Therrien
  • A Company, Le Royal 22e Régiment Commanding Officer Captain Bouffard (left) visiting the battalion's Pioneer Platoon commanded by Lieutenant Therrien (centre) and his second-in-command, Sergeant Groulx. Hill 210, Korea, December 1951.

    André Therrien
  • F Echelon officers of 2nd Battalion, Le Royal 22e Régiment at battalion headquarters, behind Hill 355 in Korea. Photo taken at time of Lt-Col. Jacques Dextraze's departure as battalion commander. 18 December, 1951. First row, left to right: Lt. Plouffe, Lt. Labrèche, Lt. Therrien and Capt. Bouffard. Second row, left to right: Lt. "Cinq-cennes," Capt. Larose, Lt. Kim (liaison officer, ROK Army), Lt. Archambault, Lt. Lebel, Lt. Leblanc, and Lt. Bélanger.

    André Therrien
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"The brigade sent a company of soldiers from another unit across our lines to hold the position that I had attacked. That’s when they discovered that there were 16 Chinese bodies on the side of the hill."

Transcript

The enemy was retreating and had what were called rearguard soldiers. When you’re part of the rearguard, your goal is to slow down the enemy’s advance. So they were trying to slow down our advance. They stayed up in the hills and fired a few shots and then they withdrew a bit further. That’s what was difficult, since we weren’t used to that. We had no idea what was going on.

Everything changed from day to day, the situation was changing constantly.  The men had contact, not with the civilian population, but with people whose paths we crossed and who were refugees, women and children with “pack sacs” on their backs [backpacks] who were travelling to the south, while we were travelling northward, slowly.

We were advancing from point A to point B. We slept on the spot on hillocks in the evening, in defensive positions, and the next day we continued climbing the hill until we reached a place where the hills were high enough and it took us a full day to climb up the famous hill. We arrived at 6 or 7 o’clock in the evening and started digging our defensive position right away. During this whole time, there were ROK [Republic of Korea] Army teams, soldiers, Korean workers who carried our bags and transported our rations. The next morning, we went back down the hill and then up another one in front of us, maybe one or two kilometres away. We called it “mopping up.” We cleared and cleaned up the hills, from A to Z.

It was difficult for us, since our bodies weren’t used to the humid heat which weakened our soldiers who weren’t used to it at all. The [2nd] Battalion [Le Royal 22e Régiment] was part of the “mopping up” moving northward towards the 38th Parallel [in Korea]. One day, we climbed up the hill to a battalion position and evidently we dug it out and then set up there for two-three days. Facing us, about nine hundred yards away, there seemed to be enemy troop movement, Chinese on the move. The night before the attack, the Chinese sent a patrol out on my side. I was holding down the left of [B] Company, which was commanded by Captain [P.R. “Pat”] Tremblay at the time.

The old trick was to fire a few shots at night to see where the enemy was positioned. So they fired back but obviously my soldiers didn’t return fire. The next day, around 11 o’clock I think, I was called by my company commander and I found the other two platoon commanders there. Pat Tremblay told the group that we would attack the hill [Hill 222] in front of us [as part of Operation MINDEN by 1st Commonwealth Infantry Division, begun 8 September 1951 near the Imjin and Hantan Rivers].

The hill was seven or eight hundred feet high and parallel to us. I was on the company’s left flank. The objective was to attack this hill. I attacked from the left flank and between my platoon and the other platoon, there was a mountain spur that led toward the hill. It separated us and the goal was to attack it and then occupy it after it received artillery fire. We were told fighter aircraft would support us. After 10 minutes or so, Captain Tremblay said to me, “Hurry up, the artillery barrage will begin in a few minutes.”  So, what happened is, typically I didn’t follow procedure, but I got all my platoons together in the rear position so we weren’t seen by the enemy. I said to them that, in five minutes, “You’ve been wanting to fight for a long time, so go and fight.”

So two bandoliers of bullets, four grenades, and we were going to attack. We were the left flank and when we attacked, I wanted them to put themselves into small groups, one section to the right, one section to the left, and the other in the rear. We were going to advance to the departure line, the “start line” as we called it, during the artillery barrage and once the barrage lifted, shouting, we ran up the hill yelling, bayonet charged and cleaned up the place. What happened was…once that happened, we attacked right away. Some of our men were killed. I had told them if any men fell, continue advancing, because the stretcher bearers would take care of the wounded in the rear.  In truth, I knew full well that that was impossible, that that wouldn’t be done. It wasn’t part of the planning.

So, we arrived at the mountain top and to my great surprise, I was alone.  Now, for your information, we always had, the number of men in my platoon, in fact, in the entire battalion, we were always well understrength. Normally, a platoon is about 40 men, and I had about 19-20 men when I attacked. My platoon sergeant, at the time, so that we could hold up [as a unit], the platoon sergeants or platoon commanders were removed from the platoon and sent to the rear for four or five days so that they could rest while the other [a lieutenant or a sergeant] carried out duties at the front. So, I didn’t have my sergeant that day. So I attacked and the company, to my great surprise, when I arrived at the top, I thought that I was all alone there.

To my great surprise, the first person that spoke to me on the radio was Colonel Dextraze.* He said to me, “How’s it going? Do you need any help?” I answered yes, that I could see with my binoculars that there were Chinese on the left flank regrouping to counterattack the left side. He replied, “I’ll take care of it. We’ll get the tanks to fire at them.” I offered to help. He said, “I can’t see anybody on the right side.” I replied, “No, they’re not there.”

What had happened is that platoon commander Meloche [Lieutenant J. E. Meloche] had been shot and had fallen down in the rice field and there were two or three soldiers there. So they hadn’t made it up the hill. So, I was the only one from the entire company, with my small group, to do the clearing and mopping up. So we stayed on that position until sundown. And, at sundown I received the order to return with my men. The next day, we resumed our official position. I took my men with me. We resumed our defensive position. That’s when I told my batman, “I’m going into my dugout. Do you understand? I don’t want anyone coming in.” I broke down a bit. My nerves got the better of me for a few minutes and when I felt better, I came out again. I went to see the men to make sure everything was okay and to double-check if I was missing anyone. The next day, they sent… the brigade sent a company of soldiers from another unit across our lines to hold the position that I had attacked. That’s when they discovered that there were 16 Chinese bodies on the side of the hill.

Our padre, Father Lebel (Catholic chaplain Father Gontrand Lebel) arrived with his little bag on his back while I was briefing my men and said, “Can I speak to your men, André?” I replied, “Hurry up, because we’re leaving in five minutes!” Father Lebel wished us luck and gave general absolution and communion to those who wanted to take communion and then he left. It shook me a bit since I didn’t think that a priest could do that; show up incognito and so quickly on site.

A few days later, Father Lebel came to find me. He said, “André, I have a secret to share with you, I don’t want you to tell anyone.” I replied, “What’s going on?” He said, “You’ve been recommended for a Military Cross.”. He continued, “Don’t talk to anyone about it in case it doesn’t come through.” Before leaving in January [1952] to return to Canada, as we were replaced by the 1st Battalion [Le Royal 22e Régiment], Father Lebel said to me, “It’s made its way to Brigade. Brigade accepted it and it’s a go.”

So I came back to Canada and took my disembarkation leave. I trained to get my paratrooper wings over the course of five weeks [at Rivers, Manitoba]. There were 50 of us at that time and we were ready to go. One day, they told us that we were going to do a demonstration at the Cartierville airport in Montreal. They wanted us to parachute in and be organized for the purposes of propaganda, for the civilians.

While at the officers’ mess in Montreal, on Atwater Street, I was with Captain [Paul] Labelle and we were waiting to see the general so that he could explain to us what he wanted from us. We were both reading the paper and Labelle said to me, “Your name is Therrien, right?” And I replied, “Yes, of course, what’s up with you?” “André Therrien?”  “Yes, that’s right!” He said, “It says in the paper here that you’ve been awarded your MC.” So that’s how I found out.  From the newspapers. So, General Bernatchez** brought me into his office and congratulated me with a small glass of champagne. I was officially awarded the medal in 1952 at Valcartier [Quebec] in front of the entire battalion. The Governor General [of Canada] at the time was Vincent Massey and he pinned the medal on my uniform in front of the entire battalion and read a citation. So that’s how it happened.

*Lieutenant-Colonel Jacques Dextraze, commanding officer, 2nd Battalion, Le Royal 22e Régiment in Korea, 1951-1952.

**Major-General Paul-Émile Bernatchez; commanded Le Royal 22e Régiment in Italy during the Second World War.

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