By Robert Seals, USASOC History OfficeDecember 4, 2019
FORT BRAGG, North Carolina - Seventy-five years ago, on December 5, 1944, the combined U.S.-Canadian First Special Service Force (FSSF) paraded one final time at their Villeneuve-Loubet camp, near the town of Menton, in southeastern France.
The FSSF was an elite commando unit activated in July 1942 to attack hydroelectric plants in Nazi-occupied Norway. Consisting of a headquarters, three combat regiments, and a service battalion, the unit prepared for combat with a rigorous program of physical fitness, close combat fighting, airborne, demolition, mountaineering, amphibious, and winter warfare training.
Commanded by U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Robert T. Frederick from July 1942 to June 1944, the FSSF earned the nickname the 'Devils Brigade' by the German Army for their aggressive night patrols defending a section of the Anzio beachhead in Italy.
Despite its effectiveness, a manpower crisis in the Canadian Army led to the unit's inactivation. Having become a 'band of brothers' during combat operations in Kiska, Italy, and Southern France, the FSSF soldiers assembled at 1400 hours for a somber farewell. The order announcing the Canadian's departure was read, followed by remarks from the commander, Col. Edwin A. Walker, the roll of the fallen, prayers, and a playing of taps. After the FSSF colors were sheathed, the order was given: "All Canadians fall out!" The 620 Canadian soldiers paraded, and received a salute from the Americans.
A Canadian sergeant from the 2nd Regiment remarked years later, that "It was the saddest day of my life, I think…Canadians were falling out that I thought were Americans and Americans were standing still who I thought were Canadians…There was no nationality in that bloody unit."
The next day the Canadians boarded trucks taking them to ships bound for Italy. The FSSF Canadian veterans were reassigned to their parent unit, the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, or sent home based on overseas time served. Most American veterans volunteered for an airborne division, or were assigned to the 474th Infantry Regiment (Separate).
Commemoration of Menton Day on December 5, began thirty-five years ago when Army Special Forces honored its lineal connection to the FSSF. Over the years, various headquarters and units have observed Menton Day. Since September 11, 2001, some unit activities have grown to a week. Now, the 1st Special Forces Group, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, has a memorial wreath laying, physical fitness competition, range day, a U.S.-Canadian parachute jump, and formal ball with a noted guest speaker.
Since 2006, Canadian Army Special Operations Forces (CANSOF) in their distinctive uniforms, tan berets, and badges incorporating a FSSF V-42 fighting knife, are seen at Menton ceremonies in the U.S. These ceremonies keep soldiers of both nations connected to their history and serve as a reminder of a tremendous legacy. The 1st Special Forces Regiment and all U.S. Army SF groups trace their official lineage to the FSSF.