By Roy Cook, SFA-75
H.R. 324 authorizes the Congressional Gold Medal to be awarded to the First Special Service Force in honor of their service during World War II. The medal will be given collectively to the First Special Strike Force, and a second medal will be struck and given to the Smithsonian Institution for public display and research. The bill also authorizes the Mint to strike bronze duplicates of the medal for sale. This would be a fine historical acquisition for any SFA unit.
This author wrote two reviews of original members of the FSSF: San Diego resident, Melchor Rillera, 101 years of age has been an inspiration for SFA-75 members. The First assignment for the Force was as a part of Amphibian Training Force 9 or “Corlett’s Long Knives,” in the Pacific Theater of Operations attacking the Japanese in the Aleutian Islands. A separate invasion force fought a hard battle on the Island of Attu and by the time the 1st S.S.F. invaded the island of Kiska the Japanese had evacuated and the invasion became a training exercise. After the Aleutian Island campaign the Force was transferred to the Mediterranean Theatre of Operations to participate in the Italian Campaign.
Staff sergeant Melchor Rillera was promoted to Staff Sgt., his unit was classified and he didn’t know where they were being sent until they were on board ship and told they were going to the Aleutians. He was assigned 12 men to find where the Japanese were attacking from so that the allies could land on the opposite side.
He was awarded a Bronze Star for the Aleutian Island campaign. He was sent to Africa where he served with Gen. Patton and fought Rommel’s 10th and 21st Panzer Divisions. In Feb. 1944, he arrived in Anzio.
It was in the Italian mountains that the FSSF reputation was earned.
Tommy Prince (D), Canadian Native American original member of the FSSF reflects the bi-Nation composition of the original Brigade. Tommy was promoted to Lance Corporal in February 1941. In September 1942 Prince returned to Canada and joined the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, and was promoted to Sergeant. Shortly after joining this unit it merged with similar American units to form the elite First Special Service Force, later christened the Devil’s Brigade by its enemies.
Prince and the other men of this unit were chosen for their rugged outdoor backgrounds and received a rigorous training schedule, often under live fire. All members of this elite squad were trained to be paratroopers and received intense instruction in stealth tactics, hand-to-hand combat, the use of explosives for demolition, amphibious warfare, rock climbing and mountain fighting, and as ski troops. Prince became a “Reconnaissance Sergeant”, responsible for moving into forward positions and reporting on the movements of the enemy.
The First Special Service Force, with Tommy Prince also, was deployed in the only campaign of World War II fought on North American soil took place in the Aleutian Island chain that stretches for a thousand miles south and west from Alaska.
The First Special Service Force, also known as the “Devil’s Brigade,” was an elite American-Canadian joint-operations unit during WWII. It was also the first modern special operations force and was first activated in Montana in 1942. The First Special Service Force went on to serve with distinction in combat in Alaska, Italy and France, often succeeding where other units had failed, before being disbanded in December 1944.
The Congressional Gold Medal, along with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, is America’s highest civilian honor. First awarded by Congress in 1776 to George Washington, the Congressional Gold Medal has been presented to notable figures that have left lasting marks on American culture and history, including military leaders, musicians, scientists, explorers, and many others.