Wednesday, April 18, 2018
Eugene "Gene" Gutierrez - First Special Service Force Veteran
After graduating high school, Gutierrez enlisted in the Army, sending money back to his family and saving some for college. He figured that three years of service would pay for two years of college. Little did he know, he would find himself on multiple front lines during four years of service. “When I went to enlist, I weighed two pounds under the minimum weight allowance,” Gutierrez said. “At 118 pounds, the recruiter told me to go home and eat nothing but bananas and return the next day. He told me when I was full, to eat even more bananas.”
Initially Gutierrez joined the Army Air Corps specializing in parachute rigging, and that road led him to the First Special Service Force (FSSF). Gutierrez served with the First Special Service Force during World War II, storming the beaches in Anzio, Italy, liberating southern France, and reclaiming Rome from the Nazis.
Under the command of Lt. Colonel Robert T. Frederick, the FSSF was made up of 900 American and 900 Canadian volunteers who assembled in Helena, Mont., to answer the call for men of the highest physical prowess to fight in an unknown unit at an unknown location for an unknown operation.
The men were trained in commando tactics, that included mountain climbing, skiing, demolition, amphibious training and hand-to-hand combat, using the historic V42 knife for close-quarters fighting. Nicknamed the “Devil’s Brigade” by German Soldiers for their fierce tactics and practice of wearing black boot polish on their faces, the unit excelled during nighttime raids.
One of the most famous missions was an amphibious assault landing in January 1944 at Anzio, Italy. The forerunners of today's Army Special Forces clawed their way through the siege of Monte Cassino and eventually captured Rome, before moving into southern France to encircle German troops.
By the time the war ended, the brigade had accounted for more than 12,000 enemy casualties, captured more than 30,000 prisoners, won five U.S. campaign stars and eight Canadian battle honors, and, played a key role in the liberation of Rome, Italy from German forces.
In total, Gutierrez saw 240 days of combat from December 1943 to December 1944. On December 4, 1944, the First Special Service Force was terminated because there was trouble finding replacements for such an elite unit and larger, division-size elements were needed to fight. After the war, Gutierrez returned to Texas, marrying his wife, Penny, in 1951; the two are still married after 66 years. Gutierrez went into teaching, and retired as a school principal in 1990.
In 2015, Gutierrez and 41 other veterans of the famed U.S.-Canadian 1st Special Service Force were honored in the Capitol, Feb. 3, as recipients of the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian award for distinguished achievement the U.S. Congress can bestow. "It's great to be here and it's great to be American," said the then 94-year-old Gutierrez. "I want to thank everyone who undertook this very important and noble assignment to honor and recognize this most versatile and effective World War II fighting unit from the USA and Canada." Gen. Joseph Votel, then commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, said "Gentlemen, the living members of the 1st Special Service Force, you should be proud of not only what you accomplished on the battlefield, but also for the foundation and groundwork that you laid in order to shape our modern day special operations forces and for the close and professional relationship that ties our two countries together, today. Rest assured that your legacy lives on in today's American and Canadian special operators -- both our countries and their citizens owe you a boundless debt of gratitude ... thank you."