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Interview with Rene J. Defourneaux [Undated]

Mark D. Doud:

Hello. My name is Mark Doud, and I am with Senator Richard Lugar's office, and we are in the Senator's Indianapolis office, and today I am with Rene J. Defourneaux.

Rene J. Defourneaux:

Defourneaux.

Mark D. Doud:

Defourneaux. And he served in World War II. He is from Indianapolis, lives in Indianapolis. And what is your address, sir?

Rene J. Defourneaux:

6651 Discovery Drive --

Mark D. Doud:

Okay.

Rene J. Defourneaux:

-- Indianapolis, 46254 --

Mark D. Doud:

All right.

Rene J. Defourneaux:

-- 3459.

Mark D. Doud:

Okay. He was born on April 29th, 1921 in Libertine (ph)?

Rene J. Defourneaux:

Luberton (ph).

Mark D. Doud:

Luberton (ph), France. He served in the U.S. Army with OSS and CIC. Highest rank was a Major. Served from the 11th of February of 1943, until the 11th of February, 1965. He was in World War II, and also the Korean War. And, sir, if you want to kind of share with us briefly your experience while you were in the service, as much of it as you can or care to.

Rene J. Defourneaux:

Thank you, Mark. Yeah. Well, I came to this country at the age of 18. My dad had emigrated in the United States in 1928, and we remain in Europe, my mother, sister and I, until 1939 when my father decided to bring us -- bring us in. So we arrived in May, and, as you know, the war started in September, 1939, and I was lucky enough to be here and not to have to serve in the French Army.

I was working as a tool maker when the United States was attacked at Pearl Harbor, and shortly thereafter, I found myself pretty much alone, because all my friends had left for the military. So I was all alone, working very nicely for the war effort when I became kind of ___ with my condition, you know. I lost all my friends. I was working very hard, and I decided my old country needed help, so I volunteered my services to the U.S. forces.

When I reported to the draft board, they asked me what my choice was, and I say, "I would prefer the infantry." My father was in the infantry in World War I. All my relatives were in the infantry in World War I, so I figure that was the queen of the battle, that was also for me. So I -- they thought that I -- they didn't think I was all quite sane asking for the infantry, because nobody asked for the infantry.

But I got my choice because this is where I first landed, in Fort Walters, Texas, in the Infantry Training Center. And fortunately for me, I had my sergeant -- my platoon sergeant was a full-blooded Indian. And as you know, the Indians and the French had a lot in common. They love -- they like each other. So he immediately liked me and took me under his wings, and I learned a lot from him. He was really good. He was a really good -- he was a professional soldier.

And I was about to join a unit when somebody called me and in the office and in the orderly room and said, "Defourneaux, you are a tool maker. What the heck are you doing in the infantry." So before I knew it, I was transferred to Aberdeen, Maryland to the proving -- to the proving center. There I became an instructor and teaching OCS wonders how to operate in machine shop, the tools, and so on.

And I was about to join a unit to go to Africa to -- for the landing there, when somebody come in the orderly room and said, "Defourneaux, what are you doing in the orderly room? You speak French. You should be in military intelligence." So before I knew it, I was in Camp Ritchie, Maryland, learning how to become an interrogator of civilians. This is where I started. I became an intelligence expert on the order of battle of the German Army, Italian Army, and the ___ Army.

Then when we were through with the training, the entire school at that time was moved out to Europe. We crossed the Atlantic, and we landed in Northern Ireland in Londonderry. My unit was housed in an old horse barn belonging to lower Londonderry, and shortly after my arrival I was called to the orderly room and a major asked me this question: He said, "Defourneaux, how would you like to go back to the old country before anybody else?" I said, "Well, how do you propose to send me there?" He said, "Well, either drop you or we will row you across the channel."

He gave me a few minutes to make up my mind, and I say, "Okay. I am game. Tell me." He said, "We will pick you up when you reach England. We will pick you up, and we will give you instructions." And sure enough, about 29 of us were gathered at Chafe headquarters in London when we were told that we would be transferred to the British Army, and because of our linguistic ability, we had been selected to be potential agents.

So 29 of us were taken to the SOE, Special Operation Executive, and there in a beautiful castle, we were -- we went through an assessment program. Very interesting. I learn a lot about people and what makes people think enough to fit in groups. And the 29 of us was taken for three days in the very extensive test. They make -- they made us do all kinds of crazy things. After we were over -- finished, nobody really wins or lose, but everybody gains -- is -- is determined what position best -- is best for you.

They kept nine of us. The others were sent back to the US port. Then from there, all of us had been permanently determined by the British that we were suitable for the job. We were taken first to Scotland where we learned trades. They call it the way -- how to operate, and there we learn how to operate radio. We learn how to blow bridges, to handle explosives, the various weapon the enemy has, our own weapons. They even taught us how to operate a locomotive and instruct us where to -- to destroy a locomotive with doing the least damage with the maximum disruption.

So once we were finished with this, we decided since most of us were going to be dropped behind the line, we would be -- we would try not to be ___. We went to Ringway Air Base which was near Manchester. We learned how to jump out of an airplane. Once was this -- this was over, they gave us some tests to -- to test our ability to operate as agents in England. Then once was -- this was over, they decided they had a mission for me.

I was supposed to join another agent who had dropped a couple of weeks before I did, and there they drove me one might to an air base, a US Air Corps Air Base, and then I boarded a B-24, and about 1:30 in the morning I was dropped in behind the German lines by our Air Force. Of course, they dropped me in the wrong place. I managed to find where I was supposed to go eventually.

Joined a group of guerrilla fighters, French Marquis they call it, and I help them organizing, train them and so on, and after several -- couple of months -- three months, I think, we clear the area out German.

The -- By that time we had landed. I was bypass my own Army, went back to the United States. There I found they had another job for me, and I went to Southeast Asia -- No, first to Asia, via South America. We could not go directly. We went through South America, Africa, India, then from India first I was assigned to a unit in See-lom (ph), then they discovered that they needed French speaker in China. I ended up in China, and I start working in the southern part of China next to Indo/Chinese border when I find myself part of a team that was supposed to conduct operations against the Japanese from China.

Eventually I dropped in Indo/China with a group that -- which was under the control of Ho Chi Minh and General Jop (ph), and after training, these guys, during a certain period -- a short period, the war happened -- the end of the war happened. Got the bomb, and we were told that to return back to our base immediately and to tell -- not to accept surrendering of the Japanese -- the local Japanese at all.

Unfortunately, this is not exactly what happened. We continue fighting. The Japanese didn't get the word. We -- we -- we were hit a couple times. Nobody got hurt though, and eventually we -- we came back -- I came back to China with the rest of the team, and to the United States. After -- after which, I -- we were -- the OSS was the ___ completely, and so I was out of the Army, still in the reserve, but out of the active Army.

Find myself a job immediately, but shortly thereafter, I was recalled back ___. First in the ordinance -- I had to go back to the ordinance. Then I went back to Fort Halliburton counterintelligence and I was trained as a counterintelligence agent, and remain as a counterintelligence agent until -- until 1956 when I was recruited by the Pentagon to do a special job in conjunction with some CIA operation.

So I went back. I was southeast Asia again. I spent seven years there in various country, based in -- primarily in Japan, and from there I -- when I was finished with my operation there, I was to the end of my tour of duty. My last, in 1963 I was assigned to Fort Halliburton and to the counterintelligence unit. I was a special agent again. [Interview interrupted by an unidentified speaker.]

Rene J. Defourneaux:

Fort Harrison (ph).

Mark D. Doud:

Okay.

Rene J. Defourneaux:

And then I -- this is where -- this is where I finished my career, and which was on the 11th of February, 1965. I had a territory that extended between Louisville, Cocomo, Richmond and Taro (ph). I was ___ by Minya (ph). I had 12 agents responsible for the area, and my primary duty there was to conduct pre-employment investigation. You know, people who are asking for military job. Try to figure out what kind of people they were.

Mark D. Doud:

All right. Okay. So you weren't really a recruiter, but you --

Rene J. Defourneaux:

Hum?

Mark D. Doud:

You weren't a recruiter?

Rene J. Defourneaux:

No. No. No.

Mark D. Doud:

But you were doing some of the research that would help?

Rene J. Defourneaux:

No. No. I was doing -- I was conducting investigation of the people who had been either promoted -- people to get promoted in the military, you have to be investigated. Because usually you get highest -- you get higher -- higher position, more sensitive, and you have to be cleared for a higher level.

Mark D. Doud:

Okay.

Rene J. Defourneaux:

If you are a private, you know, if your career for ___ is alright, but when you reach a certain area, you have to be clear to secret, top secret, and, ___, you know. So my job was to clear these people, in other words, that talk to the neighbors, talk to -- you know, the people. And the character reference they give. They usually indicate character reference. Of what school. I used to contact the schools. I used to contact -- check the police, check the files, check the records, check everything, and then write a report, and if we found anything wrong --

Mark D. Doud:

Okay.

Rene J. Defourneaux:

-- then you would report it.

Mark D. Doud:

Okay.

Rene J. Defourneaux:

That was my last job. Very boring really. Nothing exciting like before.

Mark D. Doud:

Yeah. So, like, did you have any close calls while you were -- especially in World War II when you dropped in behind German lines?

Rene J. Defourneaux:

Oh, I had plenty of close calls. Oh, yeah. That -- that was not usual -- this is -- Oh, yeah, we had... I crawl a lot of time when something is zipping over my head, you know. But I managed. I was never hurt, really.

Mark D. Doud:

You weren't? Were you not dressed -- you weren't dressed in military outfit?

Rene J. Defourneaux:

No. Civilian clothes.

Mark D. Doud:

Okay.

Rene J. Defourneaux:

The -- the worse that I had my military career I spent some time in a hospital. Three months in Calcutta on my way back to the United States from China, I developed hepatitis. I didn't even -- I didn't realize I nearly killed -- died there. Three other guys were with me. They all died. I survived. For some reason I survived. That was in the days when hepatitis was not well known. They didn't know much about it. They were very few cases of hepatitis in the United States.

Rene J. Defourneaux:

Yeah.

Rene J. Defourneaux:

Do you know what they gave me? Candy. I had a -- I had a dish full of candy, and I was supposed to eat candy.

Rene J. Defourneaux:

No.

Mark D. Doud:

Okay.

Rene J. Defourneaux:

Anyway so that's the -- And then when I was in -- when I was in Southeast Asia after the war, they evacuated me out of Laos twice. I got a case of throat closes (ph). Do you know what throat closes (ph)? Boils. Do you know what boils are? At one time I had 29 boils between my knees and my navel.

Mark D. Doud:

Is that right?

Rene J. Defourneaux:

And -- and you know what? They didn't know what to do with me except isolating me, because they were afraid I was carrying something. That was -- that was the most painful thing I have ever experienced, really.

Mark D. Doud:

Okay. Well, is there anything else you want to say on the tape here?

Rene J. Defourneaux:

The -- how about what I -- what I did? The thing I want to tell you is this, is that my experience with the French resistance was not the best experience. I was very surprised when I going back there of the attitude of the French people. You know, there were very few people in the resistance, very few.

Mark D. Doud:

Yeah?

Rene J. Defourneaux:

And I heard more complaining about the United States than against the German. I was always told -- they were always comparing us with the German. Now the German never did this, the German never did -- they never bombed us, never stole anything, but look at you guys, look at what you're doing. That was the attitude of many, many French people. Even still now. Still now it is. Yeah, they even tell me, "No, we had a nice, peaceful life until you guys came in and landed." You know? Why didn't you stay home and leave us alone. You know? We know how to handle the German. That was the attitude. I was going over there risking my life to save the neck of these -- these... So when I -- I never -- I never went back to France for four years. Oh, and when they discovered that I was helping Ho Chi Minh, I want to tell you that my name was not Defourneaux, it was m-u-d; you know, mud.

Mark D. Doud:

What was that?

Rene J. Defourneaux:

They threatened me. The French threatened me to kill me, because they didn't -- they didn't like what I was doing to them.

Mark D. Doud:

During World War II?

Rene J. Defourneaux:

During World War II, because you see, I played -- I played the game. I was an American, but I mix with the French. I learned a lot from them, and record all this. And, of course, the German -- the French were not interested in fighting the Japanese. They knew that was our job, that we would do it. They were interested in only one thing: Retaining their __ into China. This is what they want.

Mark D. Doud:

Oh, yeah?

Rene J. Defourneaux:

So when I turn them in, when I tell them what they really was gonna do, the order came to remove everything from the French. Take everything we give them, and not to use them at all. The French were hoping that we would support them, to feed them; to -- were very upset, and they very quickly put two and two together and blame me, because I was the one who could convey things to them in their own language. So I was -- I was a key player. Because our people didn't speak French, and they didn't speak English.

Mark D. Doud:

Yeah. So what was -- what was your, if you can say, what your responsibilities were to helping Ho Chi Minh?

Rene J. Defourneaux:

Well, I was very surprised, because I knew who Ho Chi Minh was. I knew that Ho Chi Minh had been the one who created a French communist party, and I couldn't figure out why we were helping a guy -- a communist. And then I used to talk to him like I am talking to you. And he used to tell me what he was gonna do. He was gonna unify Southeast Asia and make a people's country, you know, communist -- communist ideology, and what -- He was telling me this.

Mark D. Doud:

So you talked directly to him?

Rene J. Defourneaux:

Oh, sure. Many times. He didn't trust me because he was always ask me how come I spoke such good French, while the other members of the team didn't. Oh, by the way, I had to change my name when I went there. See I didn't go with Defourneaux, because they would have been very suspicious. I came -- I used the name of Raymond Douglas. Douglas was my name. And he would say, "Mr. Douglas, how come you speak such good French?" You know? I said, "Well, I come from a bilingual family. My mother was French. My dad was American; that's how I -- I don't think he believed me. He found out who I was after the war.

Mark D. Doud:

Oh, did he?

Rene J. Defourneaux:

Oh, yeah. Sure. Oh, yeah.

Mark D. Doud:

Okay.

Rene J. Defourneaux:

The French took great pleasure in telling him this: "You fool. He isn't an American. You had a Frenchman there with you."

Mark D. Doud:

And all this is in your book; right?

Rene J. Defourneaux:

Yeah, most of it. In greater detail.

Mark D. Doud:

Okay. Name of the book is The Winking Box?

Rene J. Defourneaux:

No. I am still in contact with the Frenchman who ran the resistance group who had the regional resistance. I am still in contact with him. We correspond every day.

Rene J. Defourneaux:

From France, yeah. And we correspond, and he has written my second book, which is The Tracks of the Fox. Has all his comments and everything about me and about what happened, so there is in greater detail from him. So it's not only my story, but it's the story of the group. I have a story about what happened in Viet Nam that were told to me by someone. I identified him. I said, "This is their story. This isn't mine." So people know who they are. Yeah.

Mark D. Doud:

All right.

Rene J. Defourneaux:

The -- this guy -- now Vic -- Vic ___, was -- he was a hundred percent pro American. I never really -- he never complained about the United States. Oh, heck no.

Mark D. Doud:

He was your -- the guy who's in the --

Rene J. Defourneaux:

He's French. He's a Frenchman. There are some Frenchmen who really like this country. I have a cousin who is a French general, and I got a message today, and I translated ___, and boy you read this, boy, he was really a -- he's pro American. But he admits -- he admits that the French press is so to the left -- so far to the left, and that, you know, but he beginning, he say beginning to change. He said now that the French government on the right side, we beginning -- they begin to get reports or books or stories about what really America is about. Have you heard -- you know of Vanoker (ph)? You know Vanocur?

Rene J. Defourneaux:

Sander Vanocur.

Rene J. Defourneaux:

He just wrote a book or he review a book, a French book, and he said it's a wonderful book about the United States.

Mark D. Doud:

A French author?

Rene J. Defourneaux:

The author was French, yeah, but Vanocur reviewed -- reviewed the book. He reviewed the book and gave his views on the war.

Mark D. Doud:

Okay. Okay.

Rene J. Defourneaux:

Yeah, I guess he is.

 
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  October 26, 2011
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