Veteran Stories:
Gerald Willard McFadden

Army

  • Forcemen of the First Special Service Force boarding a Douglas C-47 aircraft during parachute training at Fort William Henry Harrison, Helena, Montana, August 1942.
    US Signal Corps/Library and Archives Canada.

    US Signal Corps/Library and Archives Canada
  • Unidentified Forceman of the First Special Service Force during a winter training exercise, Blossburg, Montana, January 1943.
    US Signal Corps/Library and Archives Canada.

    US Signal Corps/Library and Archives Canada
  • Unidentified sergeant of the First Special Service Force, wearing the distinctive USA-CANADA spearhead shoulder title, Anzio Bridgehead, Italy, 20 April 1944.
    Lieutenant C.E. Nye/Department of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada

    Lieutenant C.E. Nye/Department of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada
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"A notice came on our bulletin board that there was an opportunity to join a unit from the United States as a special forces unit."

Transcript

I was back with my unit in Brockville [Ontario] and then it was changed and we were sent to B.C., Prince George. They were very worried about a Japanese invasion at that time, so they had other units lined up on the coast and they wanted some depth, so they sent us to Prince George. This went on in 1942 and it was so hot there and so desperately rough with sleeping in tents where you ate sand, you slept with it and then you drank it. And so we were pretty browned off about treatment there.

A notice came on our bulletin board that there was an opportunity to join a unit from the United States as a special forces unit. And 19 officers of the unit I was with at that time braved themselves to the medical centre to get a chance to get out of that mess of sand and nothing. We went through it from, I think I started in at seven o’clock in the morning and by four o’clock in the afternoon, I was told to wait. And so that was a good thing, I could sit down and get a drink of water. I was the only officer out of 19 that was chosen. Five doctors looked you over from your fingernails to your toenails and made sure you were in good shape.

We were in Helena, Montana. That was an area where they were going to train the First Special Service Force. It was close to 250 to 300 Canadians, some officers, a number of men were the first units in there. And I want to explain very definitely that the Devil’s Brigade [1968] movie which was made in Hollywood was highly exaggerated and incorrect when they showed pictures of rough Americans chewing each other’s ears off and being bad in every way, while they met the Canadian group. Now, the truthful part of it was that we did not have a band with us, there was no music and this is different than the Hollywood deal. The American boys didn’t like it [the film] and we didn’t like it either, that they said that we were being abused and that they were too rough and they came out of a prison to go to a special forces camp. That was all incorrect. What really happened was that our unit was separated, the officers fell out of the group, the Canadian officers I mean, the men were handed over to some American groups that were going to make sure that they got to meal time, which we had missed on the trains. You didn’t eat too much on a train. And they were hungry and everybody was hungry.

The officers were lined up. I think we had maybe 12 to 15 officers with us. The American officers were of a greater number, maybe 20, 40, somewhere in there. We walked by, much the same as you see in hockey games, where at the end of the game, they go by and shake hands and that’s what we did. We gave our name to friends and nobody remembered who they were anyways. So that was finished. We were taken over to the officers’ mess, which was nothing more than another tent. We had a beer and that straightened us out very well and we got to know some of the officers that eventually would be our friends.

I was chosen to be a jumpmaster [expert trainer of parachutists] and at the same time, look after the commencement of a company. The company would be about 80 men. Then there were only three jumpmasters and two planes. We only had one spare and worked very hard but I jumped a stick [planeload] of 24 men, starting maybe in seven o’clock in the morning and ending because the wind was coming up at noon. So it ended up that we had 80 trained men and of those 10 in the section, there was one section leader and 10 men, every one of those had a specialty like a rifle, another one could be a bomber, another one could be something else. And there was 10 or 12 things that could be applied therefore, if he was a specialist as a sniper, then he became a sniper. Now we’re at a stage where a battle unit was being built around this First Special Service Force.

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