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Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Veterans of the Devil's Brigade honored with Congressional Gold Medal

First Special Service Force Medal (front)
U.S. Mint image

  • Devil’s Brigade Honoured with U.S. Congressional Gold Medal
  • Henry Planger of Pincher Creek was a Devil's Brigade member
Canadian Veterans of the 1st Special Service Force (FSSF), known as the Devil's Brigade, were presented with the Congressional Gold Medal by Leaders of the U.S. House and Senate at a special ceremony held yesterday, February 3 in Washington. The medal was given in recognition of the brigade's "superior service" during the Second World War. “These men saved the free world, and now we are free to savor their triumph and share their story for years to come,” said U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner.


Activated on July 9, 1942, as three small regiments and a service battalion, the Devil’s Brigade was a joint Second World War American-Canadian commando unit trained at Fort William Henry Harrison in Montana, U.S.A.  The legacy of the brigade lives on, as many modern American and Canadian Special Forces units trace their heritage to this unit.

Fourteen Canadian Veterans attended the ceremony, which took place 71 years after the Devil’s Brigade joined the Allied offensive in Anzio, Italy. It was during this battle that the unit was first given their famous nickname.  Pincher Creek's Henry "Hank" Planger is an FSFF veteran.

Lt Owen Sinclair, Commanding Officer 2296 RCACC, 
Sgt. Henry "Hank" Planger, and MWO Mike Gauley, CSOR
Submitted file photo f2012
Canadian Minister of Veterans Affairs the Honourable Erin O’Toole represented the Government of Canada at the event. Minister O’Toole also visited Arlington National Cemetery, where he lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and paid tribute to American Veterans who served with the Canadian Armed Forces at the Canadian Cross of Sacrifice. Arlington National Cemetery is a U.S. military cemetery located in Arlington, Virginia, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. More than 400,000 active duty service members, Veterans and their families are buried there. The Canadian Cross of Sacrifice in Arlington National Cemetery was a gift from the Government of Canada. It stands in memory of American citizens who served with the Canadian Armed Forces and sacrificed their lives during the First World War, the Second World War and the Korean War.
“Today’s presentation of the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal to Canadian Veterans of the Devil’s Brigade is a fitting honour in recognition of their courageous service and sacrifice. The impact these remarkable men made during the Second World War has been felt around the world and will never be forgotten.” - The Honourable Erin O’Toole, Minister of Veterans Affairs

Minister O’Toole also met with the U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert A. McDonald, and the Assistant Secretary for Policy and Planning Dr. Linda Spoonster Schwartz to discuss mental health and career transition supports for Veterans.
“I was pleased to meet with Secretary McDonald and Assistant Secretary Schwartz to discuss the mental health and career transition challenges faced by Veterans. To facilitate a successful transition to civilian life it is important that those who have served have access to meaningful employment and mental health supports.” - The Honourable Erin O’Toole, Minister of Veterans Affairs
In January, 2013, Minister Peter MacKay presented 13 Devil’s Brigade Veterans with the Minister’s Award for Operational Excellence.  Congress passed a bill to award the First Special Service Force the Congressional Gold Medal in 2013.

1st Special Service Force shoulder patch
Public Domain, from Wikipedia
“Listening to these stories, one thing that strikes you is that this all happened so fast,"  said Speaker of the House John Boehner. "The barracks at Fort Harrison were essentially built overnight.  Trainees fell off as quickly as they came, all at the mercy of Muscle Mountain.  Some 200 weddings took place, and then just like that, they were off.  All told, the Force was in combat for less than a year and a half before being disbanded.  Even Eisenhower himself couldn’t explain to you how they did what they did."

“But widen the lens, and you’ll see there’s even more to marvel over.  Consider how growing up, all these men really knew was depression and then war.  So when they came home, and there was a future to look forward to, they made sure to pass on the glory, but not the stories or the struggle.  These were remarkable acts of humility, but to them, it’s just what you did to protect the ones you love."

“For a time, that was that.  But now, thanks to all those brides and their children, we know who was who and what was what."  

“We’re here because, from all the darkness, has come this outpouring of grace.  From a small unit has come a grateful generation – a force in its own right.  And from a brief window in history has come a lasting commitment to do one thing this Force could not…"

“For these men saved the free world, and now we are free to savor their triumph and share their story for years to come.  In that spirit, the United States Mint – at the direction of the Congress and the President of the United States – has struck a Gold Medal in honor of the First Special Service Force.  And we present it here, on this day and in our Capitol, on behalf of a grateful nation.”

First Special Service Force Medal (reverse)
U.S. Mint image



Sources:
2296 RCACC Lethbridge Army Cadets visited by esteemed alumni
LTBK - The Henry "Hank" Planger Community Playground

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