HELENA — Thursday marks the 80th anniversary of the farewell parade for the First Special Service Force, also known as “The Devil's Brigade,” in Helena.
On April 6, 1943, the FSSF, a joint top secret United States and Canadian force that trained at Fort William Henery Harrison, marched down last chance gulch. The parade was a farewell to Helena before they departed for additional training deployment for battle in World War II.
Constituted under LTC Robert T. Frederick, the FSSF training specialized in airborne, mountain and amphibious assaults.
On 15 August 1943, the FSSF participated in its first operation, landing in the Aleutian Islands to take a Japanese base, only to discover the Japanese had secretly abandoned the island.
After returning to the United States, they were assigned to Italy and were instrumental in breaking the German Winter Line, which had stymied the Allied advance to liberate Rome.
Following the mountain campaign, the Force played a key role at Anzio where they held a division-sized sector along the Mussolini Canal. Aggressive patrolling and raids by the blackened-faced soldiers earned them the nickname “Black Devils” by the opposing Germans.
Members of the FSSF were the first Allied troops to enter Rome on June 4, 1944.
In all, FSSF captured 30,000 German prisoners, won five U.S. Campaign Stars, eight Canadian Battle honors and never failed a mission. In 251 days of combat, the Force suffered 2,314 casualties, 134% of its combat strength.
A monument for the fallen soldiers of the FSSF was dedicated by the surviving veterans in August 1947 in Helena’s Memorial Park. The Cenotaph east of the monument includes the names of 488 men who made the ultimate sacrifice in World War II.
On February 3, 2015, the United States Congress presented the Congressional Gold Medal to the First Special Service Force (FSSF), “In recognition of its superior service during World War II”.