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Quote of the Week
"We were pretty tough by the time we went over. Out of a bunch of kids, they made men."
- Henry Planger  


Two former members of the U.S. Special Forces’ First Special Service Force (FSSF), along with the families of several more members paid a visit to the Coleman Legion on Monday, August 8th.
The group, including FSSF veterans, began going on tours to Italy so that descendants of those who served in the FSSF could see where their fathers and grandfathers fought, and where many of them were buried.
John Hart, whose father was a Canadian member of the FSSF has been organizing the tour since its inception in 2008.
During their stop at the Coleman Legion, many of the family members shared their story and why it was important to them to be involved with the group, and FSSF veterans Jack Knight and Henry “Hank” Planger shared stories and answered questions regarding their time with The Force.
The FSSF, also known as the “Devil’s Brigade”, was a unit of Canadian and American soldiers assembled in July 1942, and was made up of three regiments, each consisting of two battalions of approximately 2,200 officers and soldiers.
Canadian soldiers Knight and Planger joined the Force at the age of 23 and 21, respectively.
The Force was activated on July 9th, 1942 at Fort William Henry
Harrison near Helena, Mont., where the Force men underwent accelerated rigorous training in a variety of weapons and artillery, hand-to-hand combat, demolition techniques, airborne assaults, and attack maneuvers.
“We were pretty tough by the time we went over,” said Planger. “Out of a bunch of kids, they made men.”
From Helena, the Force was sent to Norfolk, Va. for more extensive training before being deployed to Italy in 1943.
During their time with the Force, both Knight and Planger sustained what they consider minor injuries.
Knight was wounded three times, including once when he was hit by a
German 88, resulting in 141 pieces of shrapnel being removed from his body.
He received a Purple Heart and a Silver Star in recognition of his bravery and being injured in the line of duty, however Knight said he did not feel he deserved the honour.
“There wasn’t a lot of bravery in me,” said Knight. “I was probably the most scared man they had.”
Knight said there are several memories from his time with The Force which he wishes he could forget, but both he and Planger said they were grateful to be able to spend time with the families of the men with whom they served and pay tribute to the work they did in the Second World War.

In May 1944, the Force led the drive out of the beachhead toward Rome, capturing Calmontaine, Arteno and Colle Ferro, inflicting heavy casualties on the Germans and taking hundreds of prisoners.
The Force was one of the first Allied forces to help liberate Rome and secure the ancient bridges over the Tiber River from the retreating Germans.
Story 3
Kimberley Massey photo
Veterans and families of the U.S. Special Forces’ First Special Service Force men, including Henry “Hank” Planger (front left seated) and Jack Knight (front right seated) gather with members of the Coleman, Blairmore, and Bellevue Legion executives for a “family photo” on Monday, August 8th at the Coleman Legion.
It was in Anzio, Italy that the Force earned its nickname of “The Devil’s Brigade” for their fierce fighting and blackened faces.
An entry from a dead German officer’s diary read “the black devils are all around us and we never see or hear them.”
From Italy, the Force was deployed to France, where they took two strategic islands and then liberated several towns on the mainland.
The force was disbanded on December 5th, 1944 at Loup River Flats near Villeneuve-Leubert, France.
The FSSF earned a record of unprecedented accomplishments and honours, never losing ground or failing an assigned mission.
Since the war, the Force men have continued to gather for annual reunions, including the group who travels to Italy.
“Their support has made it very worthwhile,” said Knight of the group. “It’s keeping the FSSF together and making us well known all over.”
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