A congressional gold medal honoring the joint U.S.-Canadian First Special Service Force from World War II was presented Feb. 3 in the Capitol Visitor Center’s Emancipation Hall.
Participating in the bipartisan, bicameral ceremony were House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio; Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.; Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev; and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
The medal’s obverse highlights the Force’s mountaineering, silent landings, and waterway training abilities. The design, created by U.S. Mint Artistic Infusion Program (AIP) artist Joel Iskowitz (designer’s initials JI) and sculpted by U.S. Mint Medallic Sculptor Joseph F. Menna (JFM), incorporates the group’s spearhead patch, representing the unique partnership between the United States and Canada. The inscription in the border above the design is FIRST SPECIAL SERVICE FORCE.
The reverse design features the Force’s insignia, with crossed arrows at the bottom of the design, and a banner in the eagle’s beak that reads USA and CANADA. The Medal is inscribed around the rim with the force's five campaigns — ALEUTIANS, NAPLES-FOGGIA, ROME-ARNO, SOUTHERN FRANCE and RHINELAND. ACT OF CONGRESS and 2013 appear in the upper field, arced below the rim inscriptions.
The reverse was designed by AIP artist Richard Masters and sculpted by U.S. Mint Sculptor-Engraver Donald Everhart II.
Nicknamed by the Nazis the "Devil's Brigade" because of their blackened faces, the First Special Service Force was an elite commando unit that wreaked havoc on the enemy, capturing 27,000 of them in 251 days of combat between 1942 and 1944.
The First Special Service Force, comprised mostly of volunteers from the U.S. and Canada, was activated in July 1942 at Fort Harrison near Helena, Mont.
"The Force was initially intended to target military and industrial installations that were supporting the German war effort, including important hydroelectric plants, which would severely limit the production of strategic materials used by the Axis powers," according to the enabling act, Public Law 113-16. "From July 1942 through June 1943, volunteers of the Force trained in hazardous, arctic conditions in the mountains of western Montana, and in the waterways of Camp Bradford, Virginia. The combat echelon of the Force totaled 1,800 soldiers, half from the United States and half from Canada.
"The Force also contained a service battalion, composed of 800 members from the United States, that provided important support for the combat troops."
The legislation details much of the Force's activity and continues, "After the Allied forces secured the Franco-Italian border, the United States Army ordered the disbandment of the Force on Dec. 5, 1944, in Nice, France.