Mr. Summersides Goes to Washington

By Joe Barkovich, Scribbler-at-large

Wellander Jimmy Summersides knows where he will be come Feb. 3.

He will be in Washington D.C., part of an elite group of Second World War veterans receiving the Congressional Gold Medal.

Jimmy Summersides at a recent speaking engagement. (Archived photo by Gwenn Berkhout)

Jimmy Summersides at a recent speaking engagement. (Archived photo by Gwenn Berkhout)

“It’s humbling to think that something like this is being done for little guys like me,” he said Sunday in a telephone interview.

Summersides, who gives his age as “90 and a half” was part of the First Special Service Force, a joint Canadian and U.S. unit. He was in it for about 18 months. It became known as the Devil’s Brigade.

He learned of the date of the ceremony and presentation by e-mail notification about three weeks ago.

Fewer than 50 Canadians who served in the unit are still alive, Summersides said.

During the war, it was never more than 2,400-strong, with Canadians accounting for about 1,000 of the contingent, said Summersides, who was in the Canadian Army before joining.

It was formed in Helena, Montana in 1942 and disbanded in late 1944.

“We had to have a Grade 10 education, we had to have a pretty good physique, we had to be in doggone good condition, which most of us were, being 19-year-olds or thereabouts. We had to be full of vinegar,” he told me in a previous interview.

The so-called Devil’s Brigade saw action at the Anzio beachhead in Italy, took part in the liberation of Rome and other battles in Italy and France.

It’s being recognized for what Summersides termed “exceptional service.”

A post in Congressional Gold Medals, 1776-2014 by Matthew Eric Glassman says: First Special Service Force. In “recognition of its superior service during World War II.” – Approved July 12, 2013

There’s “a chance” President Barack Obama will make the presentation, local hero Summersides said.

He is bringing a contingent of family to Washington with him.

Attending are: his wife, Margaret; daughter, Sherry; son, Rex and grandson Ivor.

Summersides will be “busting out with pride” clad in his Royal Canadian Legion navy blue blazer and grey slacks, he said.

Each of the recipients will be awarded a bronze copy of the prestigious medal. The gold medal itself will be displayed in the First Special Service Force museum in Helena, said Summersides.

The next reunion of the Special Service Association of which Summersides is a member and two-time president is being held in Helena in August.

Summersides did not have to think twice about whether he will be attending.

“Definitely, if the Good Lord says so,”  said Summersides, who is well known in local communities for visiting schools and speaking to students about the war. He has taken part in many Remembrance Day-related assemblies over the years.

Rick Hatt, a member of Fonthill Branch 613, Royal Canadian Legion, said plans are being made to show the medal presentation ceremony, live, in the legion lounge. It’s expected to be broadcast at 3 p.m. Feb. 3.

“What an honor it will be for a real gentleman, a great guy,” he said.

Watch for more on this story in mainstream media in days ahead.

(A former reporter and city editor, Joe Barkovich lives in his hometown of Welland, Ontario, Canada’s Rose City.)

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