Richard P. Courchaine was born on January 27, 1922, in Chicago, Illinois, but was
raised at Winner, South Dakota. His mother was a Polish immigrant
and his father was of French-Canadian heritage. Due to the financial
pressures of the Depression years, Richard left home at 14. For
three months he worked on the Alaskan Highway, a Civilian
Conservation Corps project. He then worked as a heavy truck
driver in a CCC logging camp in Oregon. On January 16, 1943, while
he was still 17, Richard entered the service at Ft. Lewis,
Washington. In his words, "I was going either way, so I might
as well enlist." The following is but an outline of his
story, derived from conversation with Richard and his family, his
official papers, and newspaper clippings. When removing his papers
to show me, he offhandedly mentioned that the pouch which contains
them was a souvenir he took from a German whom was killed in
the process. It was a great honor to visit with Mr. Courchaine about
his war experiences.
Service Record: T/5 Courchaine trained in Texas and Louisiana and departed from
the USA for the European Theater of Operations on April 4, 1944. He
arrived in England on April 11, 1944, and trained with the British.
Courchaine named his first and subsequent six Harley Davison
motorcycles Hertford Honey, after his future wife, whom he
had met while training in Britain. He served 18 months with
the 30th Infantry Division in France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, and
Czechoslovakia as a motorcycle scout.
His duties were to drive a motorcycle in advance positions
scouting enemy forces for numbers, gun positions, and road blocks.
In addition, he delivered messages and made minor repairs to his
T/5 Courchaine's major battles and campaigns included Normandy,
Northern France, Ardennes, Rhineland, and Central Europe. He was
wounded at least twice: in France on July 27, 1944, and again on
April 30, 1945, in Germany. He also was briefly a German POW
and was hidden in Belgium until Brussels was liberated by the
British in September of 1944.
Because he was on detached service, he was captured without
incident. Alan Arnett, an armored car driver, remembers Richard's
capture like this: "We were informed in late July, 1944, that
we would be moving on an all night attack and convoy near Montain,
France. We had to make sure our armored trucks were full of gas and
ready to roll. This is about the time that Dick Courchaine was
captured by the Germans. He was on his motorcycle and following a
jeep that was leading the convoy. The jeep had an officer and driver
in it. He thought the officer knew where he was and they drove into
the German lines. The officer was shot and killed. Dick tried to get
his tommy gun out but the Germans were on top of him."
He goes on to say, "The Germans loaded the American PW's on
tanks and were moving them to the rear echelon or PW Camps. Early in
September, 1944, our P-51 fighter planes attacked the German column
that Dick was in while being marched to a Prisoner of War camp. Dick
jumped his Guard and knocked him to the ground. Then he ran to a
village. As he entered the village, a French lady motioned for Dick
to come to her. He did and she took him to her cellar to hide. She
had another GI there too. As the front lines moved forward and the
Germans retreated, the British captured the village where Dick and
the other GI were hiding. That was about September 3, 1944, near Aut,
Belgium. Dick did not know where our outfit was located so he stayed
with the British until he found his motorcycle that was used by the
Germans and dumped in a ditch where Dick found it. He was with the
British until they liberated Brussels in the first part of
Camp Encounter: Regarding his capture, Richard remembers that while in the
process of taking maps from 9th Corps headquarters to recon late one
night, he was surrounded and captured by the Germans.
He was later chastised for not destroying the maps he carried, but
he shrugged his shoulders and said, "It happened so fast; there
was no chance." He wryly added, "They were only maps we
had already intercepted from the Germans anyway."
Richard remembers being marched to Buchenwald. He does not know
exactly how long he was there. He arrived by himself and remembers
that he "was not assigned there, just being held there."
Because he was subsequently moved by the Germans, there are no
records regarding his time at Buchenwald. He believes he was there
perhaps nine days before the Germans marched him to another camp.
His recollection of Buchenwald was that it held American and
British soldiers as well as civilians. He said that the Red Cross
came with doughnuts twice but ran out quickly. He didn't think that
he had it that bad but went on to say that he saw POWs who had been
captured in North Africa and had been in the camp for several years.
"They had it rough," he said. His other memory is of the
political prisoners being shot "100 a day."
When Courchaine was moved from Buchenwald, he remembers the long
march, lots of people being shot, and that his feet were so raw that
he didn't think he could go on, but kept going anyway. When his
chance to escape came, he took it. He then hid in a cellar until the
English came. Disregarding her own safety, the woman who hid Richard
was a member of the Belgian Underground. Her husband, a prominent
leader in the community, had fled when the Nazis first occupied
Beligum. Upon liberation, Richard "kicked around
Belgium," fighting with the British for awhile and then
returned to his unit late in the war.
Vera Courchaine, Richard's mother, received a telegram, early in
September, long after Richard had actually been captured,
subsequently escaped, and been hidden in Belgium. "The
Secretary of War desires me to express his deep regret that your son
Technician Fifth Grade Richard P. Courchaine has been reported
missing in action since Three September in France. If further
details or other information are received you will be promptly
notified." On September 22, 1944, a confirmation letter of
Richard's MIA status was received by Mrs. Courchaine. Likewise, an
April 3, 1945 letter was received. Richard still become emotional
when thinking of his mother's anguish during these times. At
the same time the US War Department was informing her of his MIA
status, Richard was also sending her letters. "She didn't know
what to do; she wondered if the letters were some sort of
trap." He goes on say, "It wasn't just us boys overseas
T/5 Courchaine's discharge papers list his decorations and citations
as European African Middle Eastern Theater Ribbon with 5 Bronze
Service Stars, American Theater Ribbon, Good Conduct Ribbon, World
War II Victory Medal, Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster. In
addition, he was later awarded a POW medal and received additional