First Special Service Force Congressional Gold Medal


Senator Statement Senator Jane Cordy February 5th, 2015

Hon. Jane Cordy: Honourable senators, I am honoured to rise today and to pay homage to the brave Canadian men who were members of the 1st Special Service Force during World War II, who received the Congressional Gold Medal in a ceremony in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, February 3. The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest civilian honour awarded in the United States. The Congressional Gold Medal is highly prestigious, and it is rare for a non-American to receive this honour. Previous recipients of the award are George Washington, Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela.

The 1st Special Service Force was the first joint American-Canadian special forces military unit and operated from 1942 to 1944. The unit originally consisted of 1,800 Canadian and American soldiers, who were the elite of the elite, and it is no exaggeration to refer to them as super commandos. They were asked to do what no other unit was capable of doing, and they performed their duties with distinction.

Their training was notoriously tough and unforgiving. The unit was trained in hand-to-hand combat, trained to fight on mountains, trained to fight while on skis. They were trained paratroopers, and they became demolitions experts. Because of the unit's effectiveness in battle, the unit and their rigorous training regime became a model for future special forces units, such as the United States Navy SEALs. They were feared by the German forces, who nicknamed the unit, "The Devil's Brigade" and "The Black Devils" because of the black boot polish the men would wear on their faces during night missions. The unit would carry out mission after mission behind enemy lines, taking out targets and disrupting enemy operations. They fought in Sicily, Italy and Southern France before being disbanded in 1944.

Today, there are about 175 surviving members of the unit, including about 60 in Canada. On Tuesday past, 14 surviving Canadian veterans of the Devil's Brigade were in Washington to represent the unit as it received the Congressional Gold Medal and to honour the memory of those who fought alongside them in the unit. The Canadian Devil's Brigade veterans able to attend the ceremony in Washington included John Callowhill from Stoney Creek, Ontario; James Summersides from Welland, Ontario; Arthur Pottle from Saint John, New Brunswick; Wilfred Paquette from Gatineau, Quebec; George Wright from Picton, Ontario; Donald Ballantyne from Cobourg, Ontario; Morris Lazarus from Toronto; H.R. Hawkyard from Toronto; Charles Mann from Kincardine, Ontario; Ralph Mayville from Windsor, Ontario; Leonard Corbett from Calgary; Maurice White from Edmonton. And, honourable senators, two attendees from Nova Scotia were honoured, Vernon Doucette of Lower Wedgeport and Herb Peppard of Truro.

One member who planned to attend the ceremony was Al Wilson of Flamborough, Ontario, who unfortunately passed away the day before the event.

Honourable senators, it is important to continue to honour our Canadian World War II veterans and to recognize the immense sacrifice many Canadians made not only during World War II but throughout the years in defending not only the rights of Canada, but also the rights of citizens around the world. It is important that Canadians continue to provide support and that we provide care for all of our veterans. It is the least that we can do to show our gratitude.

The Congressional Gold Medal is a great honour, and I am proud to stand here today and recognize the contributions that these Canadians made in the liberation of Europe in World War II.