Getting AwayHistory

Devil’s Brigade Vets Honoured

Minister of Veterans Affairs, Erin O’Toole recently presented a replica of the Congressional Gold Medal to veterans of the First Special Service Force (FSSF), more famously known as the Devil’s Brigade.

On behalf of the United States Government, in recognition of their superior service during the Second World War, Canadian veterans Harry Wilks and Ed Groves received the replica of the medal during a ceremony in Bowmanville, Ontario.

“Our government recognized the impressive service of the First Special Service Forces in 2013 with the Award for Operational Excellence. The brave service of these veterans was also recently recognized with the Congressional Gold Medal, which is the highest award presented by the United States Congress,” said Erin O’Toole, minister of veterans affairs. “Our local Devil’s Brigade veterans are remarkable Canadians and I am honoured to recognize their tremendous service to our country and celebrate this special award from the United States Congress alongside their family and friends.”

The original medal, presented by the United State’s Speaker of the House John Boehner was given to 14 Canadian veterans of the Devil’s Brigade in February 2015.

The medal was presented in honour of the 71st anniversary of the landing on Anzio Beachhead, during the Italian Campaign. It was during this battle that the unit was first given their famous nickname, the Devil’s Brigade.

“We are grateful to Minister O’Toole and his staff for helping us honour the living veterans of the FSSF in this presentation. These men are the grandfathers of Special Forces, and the FSSF Association is dedicated to keeping the legacy of the Force alive, and passing this history on to the generations to come,” said Don Shelton, director FSSFA board, son of FSSF Sgt Les Shelton 3-3.


Activated on July 9, 1942, as three small regiments and a service battalion, the FSSF, also known as the Devil’s Brigade, was a joint Second World War American-Canadian commando unit trained at Fort Harrison in Montana, USA, in response to the need for a specially trained unit capable of unique or special operations.

The unit was tasked, as its first major battle, with taking the German-held, 963-metre Monte La Difensa mountain protecting the approaches to Rome, Italy. In spite of treacherous conditions, the battalion scaled the extremely steep north-side overnight, December 2 to 3, 1943, to surprise and defeat German forces.

The number of Canadian members fluctuated between 600 and 800 and made up more than one-third of the Force’s fighting strength. During its more than two years of service, 30,000 prisoners were captured.

In December 1944, the Devil’s Brigade was disbanded, and its members were scattered among other battalions.

The unit was awarded eight Canadian battle honours and five United States campaign stars. In January, 2013, Minister Peter MacKay presented 13 Devil’s Brigade veterans with the Minister’s Award for Operational Excellence.

The legacy of the Brigade lives on, as many modern American and Canadian Special Forces units trace their heritage to this unit, including the Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR) and the United States Special Forces (USSF).

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Vicki L Morrison

Thanks to her husband's military career Vicki reinvented herself as a writer so she could work from home, while taking care of their three kids. A former MFRC executive director Vicki is a passionate advocate for military families who loves telling their stories.

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