tv Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony for 1st Special Service Force CSPAN August 28, 2015 1:54pm-2:52pm EDT
in february the u.s. house and senate presented a congressional gold medal to honor members of the first special service force in world war ii. the first special service force was an american-canadian special operations unit formed in 1942. congressional leaders and two veterans speak at this ceremony. >> ladies and gentlemen, the speaker of the united states house of representatives, the honorable john boehner. [ applause ] >> ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon. and welcome to the united states capitol. it's good to see all of you here today. since the days of the revolution congress has awarded gold medals to express the people's appreciation for distinguished achievements. the first recipient was general george washington himself in march of 1776.
today, pursuant to house resolution 324 we will present a gold medal in honor of the first special service force. the force was activated in 1942 as an elite unit of 1,800 american and canadian commandos. just how elite? well, for every man they lost they killed 25. for every man they captured, they took 235. the force was so fearless that the enemy dubbed them, the devils. and so effective today that our special forces refer to them as pioneers. these men represent the finest of the finest. so today we bestow on them our highest honor. so let me thank all of you for being here, especially
ambassador door, secretary mccue and all of our army leaders. of course in addition to many family members we're truly humbled to have with us some 42 veterans of the force. please join me now in welcoming these great men to our hall. [ applause ] >> ladies and gentlemen, please stand for the presentation of the colors by the united states army color guard, the singing of the canadian and united states
invocation. >> let us pray. eternal god, the hechbs tell stories of your glory. and the skies display your marvelous craftsmanship. and the wisdom of your loving providence you blessed the world with the first special service for force, a joint world war ii american-canadian commando unit that made the freedoms we enjoy today possible. lord, we praise you for the volunteers who comprise this 1,800-person force that contributed immeasurably to victory over tyranny.
using their intensive training these patriots in uniform were willing to give their all to ensure that liberty's bell would continue to ring. bless this opportunity you have given us to celebrate and honor their competence, courage and commitment with the congressional gold medal. we pray in your great name. amen. >> please be seated. ladies and gentlemen, united states representative from the first district of florida, the honorable jeff miller. [ applause ]
>> with each passing day the legacy of the greatest generation is in more danger of becoming a distant memory. but we must not forget. that's why it's imperative for those of us who had the ability to help preserve the memory of your service and sacrifice do exactly that. the medal we are presenting is a physical token of our gratitude for your heroism, the most important aspect of today's event is that it provides us an opportunity to strengthen the great legacy of the first special service force. at a time when we desperately needed heroes to wage war against tyranny, our two nations banded together and successfully defeated evil. the first special service force is a shining example of what can be accomplished when america and
canada stand together as one. your action embody the enduring partnership between our two nations that president john f. kennedy referenced when he said, and i quote, geography has made us neighbors, history has made us friends. -- together let no man put us under, end quote. those words are as appropriate today as they were more than half a century ago when president kennedy uttered them before the canadian parliament. it took four years to make this day a reality. and when i look at this crowd and see the faces of all the first special service force veterans in attendance, i know that it was worth it.
god bless our nations. and may god bless you our veterans. [ applause ] >> ladies and gentlemen, united states senator from montana the honorable jon tester. [ applause ] >> thank you. today is a very good day. today we honor a group of men who dedicated themselves to ensuring that this great nation would remain free. and we honor the enduring friendship between the united states and canada. these men made up of patriots from two nations were assigned a mission that the world had never seen. they played an important role in defeating our enemies during
world war ii. the men of the devil's brigade paved the way for the special forces units that we honor today. they organized and trained at ft. harrison in my home state of montana. today ft. harrison is the headquarters of the montana national guard. it is where montana's citizen soldiers still train and prepare to deploy. on the same grounds the devil's brigade did 73 years ago. the men we're honoring today trained in rugged conditions at the top of mountain peaks in the rockies, skiing and rock climbing in frigid temperatures of the montana winters. little did they know their unbreakable spirit would not only help change the course of world war ii, but it would also change what it means to be an elite member of the military. today, their legacy lives on in america's special force units who represent the best of the best who serve our nation.
i am proud that these service members called montana home. and i'm proud of those men and women who are willing to sacrifice and fight for the liberties that we hold so dear. on behalf of all montanans and all americans this medal is a small token, but a powerful symbol of your bravery, commitment, sacrifice and dedication. thank you for your service to this great nation. god bless you all. [ applause ] >> ladies and gentlemen, the united states army band and chorus. ♪
army song. ♪ march along, sing our song with the army of the free ♪ ♪ count the brave, count the true, who have fought to victory ♪ ♪ we're the army and proud of our name ♪ ♪ we're the army and proudly proclaim ♪ ♪ first to fight for the right and to build the nation's might, and the army goes rolling along ♪ ♪ proud of all we have done fighting till the battle's won, and the army goes rolling along ♪ ♪ then it's hi hi hey
♪ the army's on its way ♪ count off the ka dense loud and strong ♪ ♪ for we're we go you will always know that the army goes rolling along ♪ [ applause ] >> ladies and gentlemen, the democratic leader of the united states house of representatives, the honorable nancy pelosi. [ applause ] >> good afternoon. speaker boehner, leader mcconnell, senator durbin, mr. o'toole, general votel, ambassador, thank you and all of you our special guests. what a wonderful afternoon it is. and made possible because congressman jeff miller, the chairman of our veterans affairs committee in the house and senator jon tester introduced
legislation remembering our special forces, the first special service force. thank you. thank you, mr. chairman. thank you, senator. we can applaud them. that would be good. [ applause ] thank you, mr. speaker, for bringing us all together. it is fitting we are gathered here in emancipation hall because the heroes we honor today helped win the fight to free the world of tyranny. for generations our northern neighbor has been vital as a trusted ally and friend to our country. the first special service force made up of men from both the united states and canada continue that tradition. canadians and u.s. citizens, men who made their living laboring as lumber jacks and trappers, mountaineers and miners, answer the call to serve and change the course of the war. two great democracies came together to help defeat the
axis. together they trained for stealth combat in arctic conditions. together they sacrificed personal safety to save the world. i take special pride in recognizing that the leader of this elite unit, a man of courage, conviction and character, was a proud son of san francisco who returned to his beloved california after the war, the late major general robert t. frederick. [ applause ] undaunted by the seemingly impossible mission before him, frederick raised, trained and led the unit and was awarded a record eight purple hearts. today it is our privilege to honor him and especially the people he led, those who are here, those who are not with us. we are honored that some of these legends are here today, and we remember the so many
husbands and fathers, sons and brothers who never returned. the first special service force was given the moniker black devils, speaker said the black, the devils for conducting night visions with faces obscured by black boot polish. under the cover of night they trudged through the mountainous terrain, surprised enemy camps, captured thousands of prisoners and eventually breached the gates of rome to help liberate the eternal city. today, a plaque hangs in a section of the wall surrounding rome in honor of their sacrifices. although the first special service force was disbanded in 1944, the legacy of this indom nabl force lives on today. and today's special forces, the u.s. army special forces known as the green berets and the first special forces operational detachment delta known as the desk delta force. some are with us today. thank you for your service to our country. these heroes remind us that
although victory is never certain, where there is courage, where there is unity, where people are willing to sacrifice their own comfort to help save the lives of others, victory is possible. it is our privilege to present the congressional gold medal to the world war ii veterans of the first special service force and to recognize the enduring partnership of canada and the united states. may god continue to bless both of our countries. thank you. [ applause ] >> ladies and gentlemen, the assistant democratic leader of the united states senate, the honorable dick durbin. [ applause ] >> welcome. to all you heroes from both canada and the united states who come here today for this great honor. you may have heard that we had a
little snowstorm in chicago over the weekend. more than 19 inches of snow. more snow in 24 hours than we usually see in two or three months. and yesterday morning while the snow was still falling, the winds were blowing at 45 miles an hour. and someone asked, do you think louis knox and casey sels ki are going to make it here to washington? and i said not even an historic blizzard is going to stop the devil's brigade from being here. i honor them today, sons of illinois and group being honored. [ applause ] louis there in the front row had a tough time getting into the service. the day after pearl harbor he volunteered, went down to the post office to volunteer to serve in the marines and they took a look at the young man and said, sorry, with that overbite you'll never be able to serve. six months later he was in the army and became part of this elite fighting force.
thank you for being here with us today. [ applause ] casey fought with the fsf at the battle among the first allied soldiers to enter rome and liberate it from the nazis. he's here today with one of his 11 children. when casey came home from world war ii, like a lot of the genuine heroes of war, he didn't have much to say. he left the war on the battlefield. 40 years later his family coaxed the stories out of him. and fifty years after his return from world war ii casey and lee traveled back to europe, back to the places where he'd fought to visit the towns that the force had liberated. near the beachhead an italian man realized finally who they were. the man dropped to his knees crying and thanked casey.
then he pointed to a plaque written in italian and english trying to explain what this was all about to his own son. this is one of the soldiers, he said, who saved our village. it was fifty years after the war had ended. casey turned to his son lee and said all these years i wondered what i was doing here. now i know why we fought. the first special service force -- [ applause ] yes. the first special service force were all volunteers. the astonishing fact is not how many of them didn't finish but how many survived. they operated under cover of darkness deep behind enemy lines using unconventional warfare tactics in support of other units. every mission was a suicide mission. when a forceman went awol, it was from a hospital bed. that's true. more than one wounded fsf man
hearing that his unit was heading out leapt up from his bed and rejoined his unit, still stitched, bandaged and many times dressed in a hospital robe. the unit suffered 2,300 casualties, more than 130% of their original combat strength. but it never lost a mission. not one. [ applause ] the force existed for only two years, but its spirit lives on in the green berets, army rangers, even the navy s.e.a.l.s. and marine force recon units, canadian special operation regimens and all of today special forces. for decades ended the story of these canadian and american heroes and how they helped save the world was classified top secret, but now we know. and on behalf of the congress of the united states and freedom loving people around the world we say thank you.
[ applause ] >> ladies and gentlemen, the majority leader of the united states senate, the honorable mitch mcconnell. [ applause ] >> sometimes truth can be more impressive than fiction. when it comes to the heroes we honor today, that's certainly the case. members of the elite devil's brigade excelled in rock climbing and amphibious assault. they advanced on skis and through the air. they survived by stealth and trained in demolitions. some of their more daring mission plans would have made
james bond blush. and through it all they helped save a continent in chaos. they helped defeat some of the greatest menaces the world has known. but this isn't some hollywood script. it's a true story about a fearless group of young canadians and americans including many kentuckians willing to put their lives on the line in the truest sense of the term. some probably did it to protect neighbors and families. others to defend cherished democratic ideals. many likely fought for all these reasons. and they volunteered for this danger. here's how the force's recruiting slogan read, vigorous training, hazardous duty, for those who measure up get into the war quick. typical madison avenue spin this
profound gratitude for distinguished service, to the families gathered today know that your loved one made a difference. know that the veteran you've loved made a contribution to history that we as a people will not soon forget. as the son of a world war ii veteran i'm particularly determined to ensure that we don't. that's why we will soon dedicate the highest civilian honor congress can bestow. it may only be a piece of metal, but it carries the gratitude of a nation. may you always remember it. thank you. [ applause ] >> ladies and gentlemen, the speaker of the united states house of representatives, the honorable john boehner. [ applause ]
>> let me again thank all of you for being here today listening to these stories. one thing that strikes you is it all happened so fast. 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, 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 general eisenhower couldn't explain to you how they did what they did. but widen the lens and you'll see there's even more marvel -- more to marvel over. consider how growing up all these men all they knew was depression and war. there was a future to look forward to when they came home. they made sure to pass on the
glory to others, 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 that darkness came an outpouring of grace. from a small unit came 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 are free to savor the tramp and to share their
stories 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 these first special service force. and we present it here on this day in our capitol on behalf of a proud and grateful nation. thank you. [ applause ] we will now do the presentation of the medal right here in front. if i could have the stage participants.
special service force mr. charles w. mann. [ applause ] >> officers, madame, ladies and gentlemen of canada and the united states, i'll start off by saying i was at one time an amateur politician. it will probably show today. at any rate, good afternoon honorable members of the american and canadian government especially members of the senate and house of representatives. it's my sincere privilege to accept this award on behalf of the canadian first special service force world war ii veterans, their family members
and the force members who are no longer with us. i acknowledge the presence of both canadian and american military personnel. these are our historical modern special force members today. please give them all the support that you can. [ applause ] it is an honor to address this audience, especially the world war ii veterans and family members of the first special service force here today on this occasion for the presentation of the congressional gold medal to the veterans present and in memory of those who have gone on. in closing, i must say i'm most
honored and humbled. i thank you all for allowing me to speak on behalf of the force members present and force men who are no longer with us. may they rest in peace. thank you. [ applause ] >> ladies and gentlemen, american veteran of the first special service force mr. eugene gutierrez jr. [ applause ] >> it's great to be here.
and it's great to be an american. honorable speaker of the house mr. john boehner, distinguished members of congress, my esteemed brothers of the first special service force, family members and guest i would like to thank everyone who undertook this very important and noble assignment to honor and recognize a most versatile and effective world war ii fighting unit from the usa and canada. the first special service force was activated july 1942 under the able command of lieutenant robert t. frederick who became a brigadier general at age 36 and the youngest major general at 37. under his command and profound
leadership the first special service force composed of 900 men from the usa, 900 men from canada plus a service battalion of 800 members who provided support to the combat troops. the fssf men captured between 30 to 35,000 enemy prisoners of war in a remarkable kill ratio of 25 enemies to one forceman. since the first shot was fired on april 19, 1775, the beginning of our quest for independence and freedom 1.3 million men and women have given their lives to save america's freedom and to keep old glory waving high and proudly. one of the most important command components under the fssf accomplishments on the
battlefield was general frederick's profound leadership. he stressed the importance that line officers should lead from the front as he did in many battles. he commanded with an iron fist and a velvet glove. general frederick was wounded eight times in combat. the following newspaper quotation is from the helena, montana independent record. the force never in all its service yield an inch of ground nor left a battle with indecisive conclusion. the force won everything it fought for. i will now conclude my presentation by reading a prayer written by a soldier on or about may 23, 1944, prior to the
beginning of the offensive battle to liberate italy -- rome, italy. look, god, i have never spoken to you but now i want to say how do you do. you see, god, they told me you did not exist. and like a fool i believe all this. last night from a shell hole i saw your sky and figured then they had told me a lie. had i taken time to see things you make, i'd have known they weren't calling a spade a spade. i wonder, god, if you take my hand, somehow i feel you will understand. funny i had to come to see your face, well, i guess there isn't too much time to say, but i'm sure glad, god, i met you today. i guess a zero hour will soon be
here, but i'm not afraid since i know you are near. there's a signal i've got to go. i like you lots i want you to know. look now this will be a horrible fight. who knows, i may come to your house tonight. though i wasn't friendly to you before, i wonder, god, if you wait at the door. look, i'm crying, me, shedding tears. i wish i had known you this many years. well, i have to go now, god. good-bye. it's strange since i met you i'm not afraid to die. this prayer was found on the body of an american soldier killed in action on the beachhe beachhead. this prayer has brought me many of the conditions i experience. when i enlisted in the army on
>> ladies and gentlemen, the commander of the united states special operations command general joseph votel. [ applause ] >> it's my pleasure to be here on such a momentous occasion where i am surrounded by so many heroes from the greatest generation, the former members of the first special service force, better known as the devil's brigade. today, i represent continuity. i represent those who came behind you. mr. speaker, congressional leaders from the house and senate, distinguished civilian and military guests from the united states and canada, thank you for the opportunity to be here today. it is a true honor. when i think of the devil's brigade, two ideas come to mind. pioneer and patriot. i believe it is important to note that these men before you laid the groundwork for both our countries' modern day special forces. where they earned the nickname of the black devils because of the brigade members smeared face
with blook boot polish as they conducted their night operations, where they fought for 99 straight days without relief displaying theirin d ind nabl spirit. the u.s. army green berets and the canadian special operations regiment both organizations continue to carry the honors won by these -- by this highly successful multinational unit formed during the second world war. and like the brave men of the first special service force, our special service forces today have many distinct similarities. their membzhkrñ come from all walks of life. many were rangers, lumber jacks, north woodsmen, hunters, prospectors and explorers. they were intelligent, athletic, disciplined and well trained. they receive rigorous instruction in the use of stealth tactics, hand-to-hand combat, parachuting, explosives,
demolition and amphibious and mountain warfare. moreover their standards were extremely high. as was their decor. they were specially selected to tackle the war's toughest problems. they were indeed the elite forces of their time. and thus the pioneers of our two nations' special operations forces. like our current soft warriors who've been fighting for these last 14 years, the members of the devil's brigade were also patriots. they saw higher calling during a time when their countries and the world needed them most. and many of them made the ultimate sacrifice. and for this each and every one of us here today should bestow upon them our sincere gratitude for their amazing contributions and accomplishments on the battlefields in italy and france some 70 years ago today. and for showing the way for today's special operations forces. gentlemen, the living members of the first special force you
should be proud of not only what you accomplished on the battlefield but also for the foundation and ground work that you laid in order to shape our modern day special operations forces and for the close and professional relationship that ties our two countries together today. rest assured that your legacy lives on in today's american and canadian special operators. without your service and sacrifice, it is sure that some of us may not have the luxury and prosperity that we enjoy today. thank you once again for this opportunity to be here. and thank you again to the pioneers and patriots of the first special service force. both of our countries and citizens owe you a boundless debt of gratitude. thank you. [ applause ]
>> ladies and gentlemen, the canadian minister of veterans affairs, the honorable erin o'toole. [ applause ] >> mr. speaker, congressional leaders, distinguished guests, veterans of the first special service force and your families, it's my honor to be here on behalf of prime minister steven harper and the canadian government today and two of my parliamentary colleagues are here in washington with me. i'm also honored to be here as canada's veterans affairs minister and as someone who wore the canadian armed forces uniform because of inspiration from your generation. and i want to thank the united states congress for this prestigious honor, extraordinary recognition for extraordinary efforts. 1,800 americans and canadians came together to form the first special service force.
they were united in training to become a commando force that would be distruptive on the battlefields of europe. they were also united in the knowledge that their service and their unique style bore extreme risks. and their service was tremendous and legendary by now in italy and in france. in ansio in particular where they fought for 99 days without relief. so we're fortunate today that this special occasion allows us to bring some of them together. we get to hear from charlie and eugene. and we get to remember those who are not with us, like thomas prince from manitoba, canada's most decorated veteran of the second world war. thank you, please. [ applause ] mr. prince served as a reconnaissance scout. and our nation awarded him the
military medal, and yours the silver star. in fact, mr. prince was one of 59 silver stars awarded by the u.s. government to canadians serving under command in the devils brigade. today we must also remember the 463 of your comrades who did not return from the war. in many ways the devils brigade symbolizes the ability of two of the greatest nations to work together to secure freedom far from our shores. the devil's brigade as folklore shows brought together bag pipes and bugles, lieutenants and left tenants. it bought together young men from toronto and young men from topeka. they served and trained together and they sacrificed together. the book of john says greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his
friends. in the first special service force they were neighbors who became allies who became friends and were willing to sacrifice for their friends and for the principles that the unit stood for. this shared sacrifice between our nations began before the devils brigade. i was on the hallowed grounds of arlington today to see the canadian cross of honor, erected in 1930 by our government in those majestic fields to honor the 3,000 americans who died in world war i serving with canadian units. and the heroics of the devils brigades continue. our joint defense of north america through norad, korea where tommy prince served in the korean war. in afghanistan where the 40 americans who died serving alongside canadians in kandahar are held as close to our chest
as the 158 men and women we lost in that dangerous province. and today our royal canadian air force and our soldiers from the jtf 2, the successor unit to the devil's brigade are serving in iraq in cause of freedom and alongside our allies and friends, like those in the united states. so it's my honor to represent canada here today to thank you for recognizing these special, special veterans and allowing us to remember the service and sacrifice their unit represents. thank you very much. [ applause ] >> ladies and gentlemen, please stand as the chaplain of the united states house of representatives, father patrick conroy, gives the benediction.
>> let us pray. lord, may the hands and hearts of this nation be raised in prayer and praise for these heroic members of the first special service force, an elite unit made of american and canadian soldiers. this special force was tasked with creating havoc behind enemy lines during world war ii and laid the foundation for today's special forces units and the modern day special forces in canada. after extensive training in 1942 near helena, montana, this special force was deployed to nearly all theaters of the war but emerged as a recognized unit
in anzio, italy, in 1944, where it earned the nickname the devil's brig said from the opposing german forces. may the breath of god uphold their noble and heroic story. we thank you, dear god, our nations remain good neighbors and stand ready to assist one another in any time of danger. bless all women and men in military service, both in canada and here in our nation and bless their families. god bless canada, the true north, strong and free. and god bless america, and grant us peace both in the present and with you forever,