JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. (Dec. 19, 2011) -- According to one U.S. Soldier, when the 1st Special Service Force, a joint American-Canadian unit, deactivated at Menton, France, in 1944, "some of the toughest SOBs broke down in tears. When the Canadians pulled out, some of us Americans ran alongside them and behind their trucks with tears in our eyes."
Joint Base Lewis-McChord's 1st Special Forces Group, who trace their unit lineage back to the 1st SSF, reunited with "forcemen" from the North for a week of joint recognition and exhibition of their countries' elite Soldiers, better known as the 67th annual Menton Week, Dec. 5-9.
Though World War II-era 1st SSF troops, popularly known as the "Devil's Brigade," trained at Helena, Mont., this year's reunion was held on the 1st SFG compound at JBLM. There, Col. Brian Vines, 1st SFG deputy commander, said service in the 1st SSF, just like the 1st SFG and Canadian Special Operations Regiment units of today, was not for the feint of heart.
"'Vigorous training' and 'hazardous duty,' these were the simple words that motivated prospective volunteers of the first special service force," Vines said, who added he was "honored" by the attendance of his unit's Canadian peers. "They became an elite body of Soldiers, receiving extensive training as paratroopers, ski troops, mountain fighters, demolition experts, amphibious forces and hand-to-hand combat experts. These men were known as 'forcemen,' though the Germans they captured and killed would know them by a different name that still resides in legend and the cannons of military history."
The Canadian Army captain, who led the CSOR unit during their visit, said there was no more fitting place for his men to spend Dec. 5.
"Both of our units adhere to the values that the first special service force espoused, those of duty, honor and valor," he said. "We're honored to be here today to be a part of this event and remember those who've gone before us, both forcemen, and members of our respective units who've made the ultimate sacrifice."
As per tradition, Vines and his Canadian counterpart laid a wreath at 1st SFG's compound in remembrance of the 1st SSF and all of the elite American and Canadian Soldiers who had fallen since the 1944 deactivation.
Menton week included an opening of JBLM's 1st SFG Flat Range Complex to family and friends for the chance to fire a wide arsenal of weapons, and while part of the itinerary was cut short due to weather, they did manage a joint-nation static line parachute jump for almost 300 Soldiers, as well as a Menton Day Ball to finish off the week.
Like their modern lineage, American and Canadian Soldiers of the 1st SSF were trained in an array of combat skills, many which were unconventional. The 1st SSF fought together against the Japanese at the Aleutian Islands, as well as axis forces at Italy, France and Germany, among other locations.
As World War II continued, leadership realized that with their special skill sets and abilities, the American and Canadian armies couldn't easily refill the ranks of the 1st SSF, and chose deactivation as an alternative near the close of the war. American Soldiers transitioned to augment other Airborne units in the Army, while Canadian troops joined Canadian Forces airborne infantry units.
Though their uniforms and customs may have been a bit different, one of the Canadian troops, who spent his second Menton Day with 1st SFG, his first of which was 2007, said traditions such as these add to mutual respect between the two nations' forces, which contributes to continued positive partnerships in training and in battle. ''
"It's to honor the special relationship we've had with American special forces since World War II," he said. "I've worked with more than a couple of American special forces teams during my tours in Afghanistan and the camaraderie usually comes along quickly because of the mutual histories we've had."