Independent Record article by Philip Drake
Efforts are underway to raise money for a statue dedicated to the leader of the famed 1st Special Service Force that trained at Fort William Henry Harrison during World War II and was later named “the Black Devils” by German forces.
A GoFundMe site has been set up for Gen. Robert Tryon Frederick, to be erected in France, according to the page organized by Frederick’s grandson, Brad Hicks. He said his grandfather leading another command later liberated France from German troops in World War II and is still held in high regard there.
“He was legendary for leading his men into battle. Winston Churchill called him ‘The Greatest Fighting General of All Time.’ I just called him grandpa,” Hicks posted on the page.
The site has raised $1,365 toward its $15,000 goal, with Hicks noting the French have already raised $50,000.
“Communities across southern France now want to honor this remarkable American who gave them their freedom,” the page states.. “This is your chance to help make sure North America’s contributions to freedom in Europe are never forgotten.”
Frederick received eight Purple Hearts in WWII — more than anyone in the war; all of them as a colonel and general. He was charged with a new U.S.-Canadian commando force, that activated in July 1942 and was stationed at Fort Harrison.
The 1st Special Service Force saw most of its action in Italy where they were instrumental in breaking the German Winter Line. It played a key role at Anzio where they held a division-sized sector along the Mussolini Canal. Their final campaign was the liberation of Southern France. They were dubbed “The Black Devils” by the Germans and are also known as “The Devil’s Brigade.”
Frederick left the 1st Special Service Force during the summer of 1944, and was given command of the 1st Allied Airborne Task Force. In August 1944, Frederick, who at 37, was the youngest two-star general, led the airborne invasion of Southern France. They parachuted at night behind German lines and liberated the French Riviera.
“The people there still celebrate Aug. 15 as their Liberation Day, and they still consider Gen. Frederick their liberator,” Hicks said.
The 1st Allied Airborne Task Force then moved up the French Riviera coastline, taking Cannes unopposed on Aug. 24, 1944, and linking up with Frederick’s old unit, the 1st Special Service Force.
The Gen. Robert T. Frederick statue will be a bronze life-size sculpture, placed in a public park near his first command post in La Motte, France. The unveiling is planned for Aug. 15 — the 80th anniversary of the airborne invasion.
The chapter of non-profit Rotary International in La Motte, France is overseeing this community project and fundraising campaign.
Bill Woon, a Helena resident and member of the 1st Special Service Force Association who has written about the Black Devils, said any recognition of Frederick is a worthy project.
“He was the perfect leader for the 1st Special Service Force,” he said. “He knew how to command his men and lead his men and they would go to hell and back for him — and they did.”
Hicks, who was 7 when his grandfather died in 1970, is optimistic the money will be raised.
“I think the real story is that 80 years after the fact, the people of Southern France look up to him as a hero,” he said. “Aug. 15 is their Liberation Day. Even bigger, they have not forgotten the Canadians and Americans who liberated them. The statue of my grandpa is for all of them.”
The GoFundMe site is at https://bit.ly/3QlUOah.