Odds are you never heard of the First Special Service, and there’s a reason for that. But during WWII you can bet the Germans knew all about men like Casimer Celske and his fellow “Black Devils.”
“We raised hell over there, the Germans knew about it, they moved back 5 miles just to stay away from us,” say Celske, one of the original First Special Service members.
He and the rest of First Special Service often painted their faces black and went on night raids seeking out and killing German forces. They were so good at it the Nazi’s nick-named them the “Black Devils” and put a special bounty on their heads.
“You went looking for trouble basically. Well sure! We’re tough I’m telling ya, nobody went past us, we never lost a battle I tell ya that,” he adds.
The Black Devils saw extensive action in the European Theatre. Fighting in Southern Italy, Monte Carlo, France and the Battle of the Bulge, they were the original Special Forces. Today’s commandos, whether they’re Navy Seals, Army Rangers, or the Marines’ Force Recon – all US Special Forces trace their roots back to the First Special Service and men like Casimer Celski.
“My outfit was the ones that went behind the German lines, up the cliffs they climbed em and cleaned em out. We had to be there first to clean things out and let those guys go,” says Celske.
After the war the First Special Service was disbanded, and largely forgotten by the public – in part because their secretive nature and because men like Celske refused to talk about their time in the service. But now there’s a nationwide push to get these veterans one last commendation – the Congressional Gold Medal, which is only awarded to individuals who’ve performed outstanding service in the name of our country.
“It’s not a military award. Not to be confused with the Medal of Honor that’s given out for heroism in battle and stuff. But the Gold Medal can be given from the legislative branch versus the President,” says Celske’s son Lee.
In order to handout a Congressional Gold Medal both houses of congress must pass a measure by a two thirds majority. Now the hope is to pass a bill and award the medal to few Black Devils still living by this September. It should be no surprise it’s the children of these heroic men behind this push, because even more than a half century later men like Casimer Celske are reluctant to talk about their time at war.
“I don’t know, I never said nothing for 60 years. No one knew, no wife that that I married, nobody knew. I was in the service that’s it. That’s all I talked about,” says Casimer.
The bills to award the “Black Devils” a Congressional Gold Medal are House Resolution 3767 and Senate Bill 1460.