HELENA — As the world prepares for the 75th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy, Tuesday, June 4, 2019 marked yet another historical World War II anniversary.
On June 4, 1944, the First Special Service Force became the first Allied troops to enter Rome, Italy.
The top-secret unit, made up of United States and Canadian troops, was born in 1942. The unit trained at Fort Harrison in Helena.
They arrived in Italy in November of 1943.
The troops used their specialized training in mountain operations and amphibious assaults to fight their way through German lines. It was then that they earned their nickname, “The Black Devils.”
American Navy Veteran, Bill Woon, has a special place in his heart for the First Special Service Force as his father was a part of the first unit and survived the war.
Woon said, “At the time, they were an experiment, they were top-secret, and they were very small unit. There were only 1,800 men in their combat echelon, 2,200 total, and being top-secret, they were told not to talk, so for 75 years we have not heard the story of who they were and what they accomplished.”
The First Special Service Force helped clear the way for Allied landing in southern France by seizing two islands. The unit was deactivated as of December 1944 for six months or so before Allied forces accepted the unconditional surrender of German forces.
Woon also told MTN, “I think we just need to remember, we just recognized vets for Memorial Day, but I think we need to recognize the price that was paid for the freedoms we enjoy today and that the commitment that was made by the greatest generation for ensuring that their kids and their grand kids will have a better life.”
A monument to the men who served stands proudly in Memorial Park in Helena.
-Reported by Christine Sullivan/MTN News