Saturday, November 04, 2006

Devil's Brigade - Nov. 4, 2006




The Power of The Force

Present-day soldiers setout to experience life in the Devil’s Brigade.What they encountered was a lot tougher than they had imagined.

By Eric Kohanik

They were officially known as the First Special Service Force.

To many people, though, the soldiers who made up an elite Canadian/American military unit during the Second World War came to be known as “The Devil’s Brigade.”

Formed in 1942, the unit was glorified by Hollywood in 1965, in a movie of the same name that starred William Holden, Cliff Robertson and Vince Edwards. The men who made up the actual unit have never cared much for that flick, though, largely because it exaggerated so many of its characters and storylines, the way Hollywood tends to do.

The real story behind the First Special Service Force is much more compelling. And, as Remembrance Day approaches next weekend, it’s fitting for History Television to relive the tale in a project called Devil’s Brigade.

I’ve heard a lot of stories about the First Special Service Force over the years. My father-in-law, Joe Dobrucki, was actually a member of the unit. But the first in-depth stories I ever heard came from his fellow veterans at some of the annual reunions of the First Special Service Force Association.

Getting Joe to talk about his experiences was always much tougher. It wasn’t until the afternoon of one Remembrance Day – back in 2001 – that he really opened up as we sat around the dining-room table.

Spurred on by the aftermath of what happened on Sept. 11 that year, Joe finally spoke in greater detail of the intense training and other gruelling things he and his fellow soldiers endured as young men embarking on wartime missions that were perceived by many others as being impossible.

It turned out to be Joe’s last Remembrance Day; his revelations on that afternoon seemed even more meaningful as a result.

One thing was always certain in my mind all along, however. This was one tough unit.

Its mission was to shock the enemy with quick, lethal strikes. Its members – sometimes nicknamed “the Black Devils” – were skilled in parachuting, mountain-climbing and deadly hand-to-hand combat, often wreaking their havoc on the enemy at night.

Devil’s Brigade zeroes in on 15 present-day soldiers as they go through the paces of the same training endured by the original soldiers more than 60 years ago. Outfitted with the same uniforms and equipment, the men then attempt to execute one of the missions the unit carried out in Europe.

It’s not an easy exercise for them. In fact, over the course of the four-part, two-night documentary series, one soldier almost dies, while four others end up hospitalized. Two more discover they just can’t cut it.

Rounding out Devil’s Brigade are interviews with real veterans and archival footage that retraces the history of the First Special Service Force and its accomplishments. It’s an eye-opening TV journey – and a fitting salute to Joe and the rest of that powerful Force.

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