The national holidays of two North American countries are taking place this weekend, and, since it's not every day that 2/3rds of a continent gets involved in the whole fireworks/flag waving/beer chugging extravaganza of drunkenly patriotic awesomeness, I am personally planning to celebrate in the sort of universalist manner my unique geographic location allows me to – by driving to Vancouver tonight and celebrating Canada Day by slamming poutine gravy-cheese fries, sucker-punching a grizzly in the taint, and pretending I might somehow know any of the words to "God Save the Queen" (or whatever the hell they sing up there when they're pumped up about Canada), and then coming back to Seattle Monday to grill cheeseburgers, talk shit about the British Crown, and shotgun cans of Bud while sitting in an above-ground swimming pool on the 4th of July. And, since I can't adequately represent the sublime combination of cheap gunpowder, fermented barley, and deep-fried animal by-products through the medium of the Internet, I'll attempt to represent this badass duality of holidays in another way – by telling the story of an insane, over-the-top hero from the most hardcore joint military operation ever undertaken by the Canadian and American governments: Sergeant Tommy Prince of the 1st Special Service Brigade (aka "The Devil's Brigade").
Tommy Prince was born 25 October 1914 in the Canadian province of Manitoba. A member of the Brokenhead band of the Ojibwe Indian tribe, Prince was one in a long line of hardcore Native American badasses dating back to a time when most white guys thought that if they sailed their ships too far off the coast of Spain they'd fall into a bottomless pit and be devoured by Satan. As a young man, Prince dropped out of elementary school to help feed his family but hunting and tracking wildlife on the Reservation, gunning down buffalo and bringing home heaping armfuls of beef. Now, I really don't know shit about rural Manitoba, but when you go to the official website for the province the first two things you see are a cartoon buffalo and a giant fucking polar bear, so I think it's safe to assume this place is pretty hardcore, and that any twelve year-old who can go out in the woods there by himself for long stretches of time armed only with a rifle and a combat knife has to be seriously fucking intense. Prince was. According to his biography, this guy could move almost completely silently through any terrain, crawl on his belly through thick underbrush faster than most regular schmucks could walk upright through it, and could put five bullets through a playing card at 100 meters without blinking. He was also an expert in wilderness survival, tracking, and traveling long distances without food or rest. Oh, and he was also kind of a player – one time he got 60 stitches when some woman at a bar slashed him in the face with a broken beer bottle (presumably because he was already going home with five other hot babes and didn't feel like bringing her along).
In 1940, the 24 year-old Prince enlisted in the Canadian military, and his natural aptitude for doing badass shit in the middle of the fucking wilderness made him a prime candidate for some crazy new Weapon X-style program the mad scientists of the North American militaries were working on – specifically, the creation of a new unit of badass motherfuckers who could take on the most insane suicide missions Allied command could think of. Hardcore commandos ready for any mission, anywhere, anytime, in any part of the world, and ready to massacre totalitarian dickbags with any weapon larger than a thumbtack. Tommy was hand-selected for this joint Canadian and American unit, innocuously named the 1st Special Service Force, and was sent (along with the toughest wilderness experts in the Canadian and American armies) through intense training in the frozen tundras of rural Montana. Over the next couple months, these soon-to-be-elite commandos were trained in parachute assault tactics, hand-to-hand combat, knife fighting, stealth operations, reconnaissance, demolitions, and alpine warfare. Eventually known among the Germans and Italians as "The Black Devils" (because these guys would paint their faces black with shoe polish before going on night operations and garroting Fascists), the 1st SSF would go on to be one of the most hardcore military units of World War II – performing commando ops throughout Italy and France, sneaking into seemingly-impenetrable enemy bases and killing everyone out of hand with knives or icepicks or what the fuck ever else they felt like carrying. This unit was so tough that when it was disbanded it eventually morphed into the 1st United States Army Special Forces (better known as the Green Berets) and the Canadian counter-terrorist Joint Task Force 2. Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds is (very loosely) based on the unit, and when the folks at Marvel went through and retconned a bunch of Wolverine's backstory they had him fighting Nazis as part of the SSF in WWII.
So saying that Tommy Prince was the most decorated warrior from this unit is kind of a big deal.
Note: The Black Devil's Brigade should not be confused with the Black Taint Brigade.
Early on in the Italian Campaign of 1943, the Devil's Brigade's primary objective was simple – get behind enemy lines and fuck shit up. Attack impenetrable mountain fortresses at night and kill everyone inside. Get into their base, kill their d00ds, then get as many of your guys out as you could. At the Battle of Monte La Difensa, the Devil's Brigade attacked a mountain base that had been unsuccessfully assaulted three times by full-scale attacks – the SSF climbed up the steepest part of the mountain in the middle of the night, broke into the fort, and destroyed EVERYTHING. The detachment assigned to the battle suffered a 77% casualty rate in the process, but the next morning the Allies were able to walk right up the hill into the installation like they were out on a weekend hike.
If Tommy Prince were a G.I. Joe, he would have been a cross between Snake Eyes and Tracker, and the big Native American quickly became the stuff of legends once stories of his balls-out attacks on enemy strongholds started getting around the unit. For instance, near the village of Majo, Prince single-handedly snuck up to the enemy front lines in the middle of the night, slipped into all of their fortified steel machine gun bunkers one-by-one, and killed everyone inside with a fucking Bowie knife. His mission was completely silent – the next morning, when the Germans at the top of the hill saw the Canadian and American infantry advancing across the field, they couldn't figure out why the hell the MG-42s weren't shooting at them. It was only after the battle that they'd realized it's because every single machine gun nest was ankle-deep in the blood of Tommy Prince's enemies.
Sometimes Prince would fuck with the Axis troops just for the hell of it – badass PSY-OPS Sam Fisher shit. Like, he'd sneak into an Italian town at night, break into the infantry barracks, and steal everyone's shoes off their feet while they were sleeping. Or he'd go into the SS Officers' quarters and kill every third guy while he slept in his bed – the rest of the guys would wake up the next morning to find the dude next to him was dead from a knife wound to the throat, and they'd be appropriately freaked the fuck out of their minds.
Another pretty badass event went down outside Anzio in 1944. Prince was scouting enemy positions, and he'd somehow found a way to run a 1500-meter telegraph wire all the way from Allied lines to a farmhouse 200 meters from the German artillery without being detected. The next morning, he used the telegraph to start calling in positions of German tanks and guns to American artillery, who proceeded to make it rain fireballs and shrapnel. Things were going great, people were getting gibbed apart all over the place, etc., but then all of a sudden the shelling abruptly stopped. Prince realized that a stray bomb had cut the telegraph wire, and now the Allied artillery wasn't getting his fire coordinates. While most people would have called it a day and gone home to collect his fucking medal of bravery, Prince decided, "Fuck it, I totally haven't killed enough Fascists for one afternoon, so let's try to keep this thing rolling". This madman immediately went through the old farmhouse where he was hiding, found some clothes, changed his clothes so he looked like an Italian farmer, and then walked out into the field carrying a hoe and a rake. Calmly, unarmed, and in full view of the German patrols, Prince walked right to the break in the telegraph line, bent over to pretend to tie his shoes, and rejoined the wires right in front of the enemy soldiers. Then he stood up, shook his fist at the guards, make some veiled pun involving hoes, walked right back to the farmhouse, and went back to bombing the shit out of their Panzers.
Wolverine fighting Nazis with the Devil's Brigade.
I'm fairly confident that Prince's life was exactly like this in real life.
Prince once again performed amazing feats of badass in the Summer of 1944, when he was sent to southern France to scout enemy positions and troop locations. A few hours into his mission, Prince found some French resistance guys fighting the Germans, so he picked off the Nazis with a sniper rifle until they all got freaked out and ran for it. When Prince came down to talk to the French dudes, they told him that the fire was so intense that they'd thought they were being rescued by a company of at least 50 men, and they couldn't believe it was just this dude with his standard-issue rifle (Prince would later be nominated for the Croix de Guerre for this action). After almost accidentally winning the French government's highest award for bravery in combat, Prince went on to locate the German base, return to Allied lines, and then lead an all-out assault on the fortress that would result in the capture of 1,000 enemy Prisoners of War. Oh, and he did it all while crossing 50 miles (70km) into enemy territory, twice, on foot, without sleep or food or rest, over the course of one 72-hour session. For his actions he'd receive the Military Medal (the third-highest award for bravery offered by the British Army) and the Silver Star (the third-highest award for bravery offered by the American Army). He's one of only three people in history to get both those medals.
World War II ended, but life in Canada wasn't all that great for Native Americans in the 1940s, so when the Korean War broke out in 1950 Prince immediately re-enlisted as a Sergeant in the Canadian infantry and served two tours of duty even though he was already suffering from extremely painful arthritis in both his knees. Fighting with the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, Prince led commando raids into North Korean and Chinese camps – including one attack where he personally took 8 prisoners and stole two heavy machine guns. His regiment earned the United States Presidential Unit Citation for their defense of Kapyong (when they fought their way out after being completely surrounded by a full division of Chinese infantry), he was shot in the leg while defending The Hook, and he once got in trouble when he found a Canadian sentry asleep at his post and threw the guy in a fucking brutal sleeper hold to teach him a lesson about why you shouldn't pass out when you're on fucking guard duty unless you want to get your windpipe crushed.
Tommy Prince retired after the war, got married, had 5 kids, and in 1955 he jumped in a freezing river and single-handedly saved a man from drowning (proving that he could save lives just as spectacularly as he could take them). He is now remembered as the most decorated aboriginal war veteran in Canadian military history.
"All my life I wanted to do something to help my people recover their good name.
I wanted to show they were as good as any white man."
American Indian Source
Horn, Bernd and John Scott Cowan. Intrepid Warriors. Dundurn, 2007.
Nadler, John. A Perfect Hell. Random House, 2007.
Sealey, D. Bruce and Peter Van De Vyvre. Manitobans in Profile. Penguin, 1981.
Watson, Brent Byron. Far Eastern Tour. McGill-Queen's, 2002.