(Photo by Patricia Leboeuf, Petawawa Post)
The Colour Party bring their flags into the Royal Canadian Legion hall. (Photo by Patricia Leboeuf, Petawawa Post)
First Special Service Force veteran Vernon Doucette from Lower Wedgeport, ON was at the memorial, and was approached after the service by countless people wanting to thank him for his service during World War II. (Photo by Patricia Leboeuf, Petawawa Post)
The Recipients of the General Frederick Award laid a wreath during the Saturday service. (Photo by Patricia Leboeuf, Petawawa Post)
Memorial service honours legacy of First Special Service Force
By Patricia Leboeuf
Posted on Thursday, August 18, 2016
Past meets present: FSSF 70th reunion coincides with Canadian Special Operations Regiment’s 10th anniversary.
Alongside their modern-day American and Canadian Special Operations Forces peers, veterans of the First Special Service Force (FSSF) celebrated their 70th anniversary.
Celebrations alternate between both countries every year since the first reunion in 1947, and the Petawawa/Pembroke area was chosen for 2016. Though festivities were held beginning on Wednesday, a solemn memorial service was held at the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 517 on Saturday, August 13.
Due to the rain, the event was moved indoors, and was so well-attended by veterans, family members, friends and representatives from the Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR) and the United States Special Forces community that the hall was filled to capacity, all there to honour the fallen veterans of the FSSF.
“We are delighted to be in the Pembroke/Petawawa area to celebrate the 70th Anniversary Reunion of the First Special Service Force,” said FSSF Association President Corliss Olson. “Many of these men were from northern Ontario where their experience in logging and mining helped prepare them to endure the rigour required by this elite group of combat soldiers whose accomplishments in battle are legendary. We are honoured to be able to celebrate 70 years of friendship and the lineage with US and Canadian Special Operations Forces.”
Nicknamed the Devil’s Brigade or Black Devils, the FSSF was a joint American-Canadian World War II commando unit founded in 1942. They were men from all walks of life with skills unmatched by any, and they gained a fearsome reputation throughout Europe, where they took part in 251 days of combat operations, notably breaking the Nazi Winter Line. These 1,800 elite soldiers changed the face of battle, fighting for freedom far from home and gaining precious victories for the Allies. Though the unit officially disbanded in 1944, it left an astonishing legacy that still remains, reflected in special forces units worldwide.
“We carry the lineage of the First Special Service Force, something we take very seriously,” said Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR) Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel Steven Hunter. “We live by the ethos that was developed all those years ago.”
3rd Special Forces Group Commander Colonel Bradley Moses pointed out that the over 20,000 US special forces soldiers serving today owe their livelihood to the Devil’s Brigade. In most of the places they serve, they are tasked with Canadians, further highlighting their unique shared history.
“It is truly an honour for me to be here,” said Col Moses. “I feel like I’m a part of this organization from its inception. It is really in my blood and I’m grateful for my ability to continue to serve.”
What made the occasion more memorable for attendees was the parallel the event shared with CSOR’s 10th anniversary. The unit celebrated their milestone on Friday, and many of the soldiers were at the memorial.
According to LCol Hunter, CSOR is proud of the accomplishments achieved over its 10-year history, and its soldiers are humbled to stand next to the veterans of the FSSF and strive to match their dedication to mission success and service before self. To this day, they still wear the arrowhead patch of their forefathers as a tribute.
Memorials such as this also allow the young soldiers to learn from the older generation, who share more in common with them than not, confirmed the Lieutenant Colonel.
“We often engage them and seek their wisdom on experiences they had in Europe during the Second World War,” he said.
At the memorial, the 42 names of FSSF members who have died since last year’s reunion were read out, and wreathes laid on behalf of World War veterans and the fallen. Once the mournful tones of the Last Post finished, CSOR Padre Alex Varga offered up a benediction in both Hebrew and English.
Though many of its personnel are currently deployed around the globe, CSOR marked their anniversary with several events including Exercise ENDURING DAGGER, which showcased the unit’s unique capabilities and a unit parade and barbeque with veterans from the FSSF.