Pictured here is an original Shoulder Flash of the First Special Service Force from 1942.John Martin
Mr. John Martin at Army Headquarters in Calgary, Alberta in 1945. Mr. Martin was starting a speaking tour of Calgary businesses that employed more than twenty people.John Martin
Mr. John Martin's Canadian service medals, from left to right: 1939-45 Star; Italy Star; Canadian Volunteer Service Medal (CVSM); War Medal (1939-45); including his Parachute Wings, Wound Bars and U.S. medals Combat Infantryman Badge and Bronze Star.John Martin
"And what it said in German on it was: ‘the worst is yet to come.’ The Germans called us the black devils, the black devils with dirty faces."
Well, the First Special Service Force was a joint U.S.-Canadian army. It was a special commando unit being formed down in the United States, in Montana. They wanted it to be half Canadian and half American. It was originally designed, or formed, because they were going to drop the force into Norway to disrupt the German oil reserves up there in their oil tanks.
Well, I was signed up in Nanaimo and then I was sent down to Helena, Montana where the force was formed and that’s where we did all our, basically, most of our training then was in Helena, Montana. That was in August of 1942 we were there. We trained all 1942 there, and then we did some more training down in Vermont and then we went down, and we took amphibious training in Virginia. Yeah.
About that time, the Germans found out somehow or other that we were going to be dropping into Norway, and they threatened the Norwegian government with reprisals against their people if anything happened to their oil tanks. So the attack was called off, so we never went into Norway. They sent us instead over to the Pacific up in Aleutian Islands to drive the Japanese out of the Aleutian Islands, back to there. But we got up there and we were all ready, we went into the island, on the island of Kiska which the Japanese were holding, but I guess they found out we were coming in and during the night, they left there. So we got there, there were no Japanese. So they immediately sent us back to San Francisco and across over to Virginia again, and then they shipped us out to Casablanca [Morocco] and over to Italy.
There was a large mountain quite a ways north of Naples, it was called Monte la Difensa; and it was holding up the American, the Allied advance altogether really. It had been holding them up for three months and all the bunch of units had tried to take it, but they were unsuccessful, so our commanding officer decided that he could take it because we were trained in mountaineering and all that. So he decided that we could crawl up the back of Monte la Difensa and come up behind the Germans and surprise them, and knock them off the top, which is what we did. We went up, we climbed up on ropes and everything else teed up the backside. We went over the top and drove the Germans off of it.
We operated in small groups. We operated differently, depending where were but we were, after we’d taken Monte la Difensa and gone up through the Liri Valley. Then they sent us over, they opened up on the beachhead on the western side of Italy, which was called the Anzio Beachhead. Our force was sent up there; and we operated in small groups at night, most of the time behind the enemy lines. Going over at night and raising heck, as much heck as we could in the dark and then getting out of there. So we’d take like cork and blacken your faces so that the moon, there wouldn’t be no glow off of it; and then you’d just work along there and try and locate the Germans and take them out, as many as we could.
Commander had made up little patches, sticky patches, that we had so that if you killed a German, then the idea was to put one of these patches on his helmet. And what it said in German on it was: ‘the worst is yet to come.’ The Germans called us the black devils, the black devils with dirty faces. [laughs]
Interview date: 29 September 2010