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Who is considered one of Canada's most decorated Indigenous war veterans who served during the Second World War and the Korean War?

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Many Canadians are familiar with the heroism and devotion of Sergeant Thomas George Prince, M.M. (25 October 1915 – 25 November 1977) during the Second World War and the Korean War. 'Tommy' Prince is a descendent of Chief Peguis of the Saulteaux, who played a prominent role in the early history of the Red River Settlement, Manitoba. Born at Petersfield, Manitoba, his family moved five years later, in 1920, to Scanterbury on a Reserve of the Brokenhead Ojibway Nation – which is about 60 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Prior to his service during the Second World War, Prince had supported his family as a hunter, trapper, and farm labourer. After many attempts to join the Canadian military, he was finally able to enlist in June 1940 and initially served as a sapper with the Royal Canadian Engineers conducting home guard duties in England. Looking for greater challenges, he had volunteered for duty with a parachute unit and successfully earned his wings from the No.1 Parachute Training School RAF at Ringway, near Manchester, England, and was promoted to lance corporal. As he excelled as a soldier, he was selected to train with the 1st Canadian Special Service Battalion and in September 1942, he was sent to the U.S. to undertake special training as part of the First Special Service Force (FSSF) – a joint American-Canadian commando unit of about 1,600 men that was known to the enemy as the "Devil's Brigade". He was promoted to sergeant shortly after.

Prince often distinguished himself in battle. For example, while in Italy, near Littoria, in February 1944, Price was charged to maintain surveillance at an abandoned farmhouse about 200 metres from the enemy lines. He had laid a communications line from the observation post to his battalion 1,400 metres away and for three days reported on enemy activity. After the line was severed due to shelling, he posed as a local farmer and had repaired the break while pretending to tie his shoelaces. For this action he was awarded the Military Medal - the third-highest award for gallantry and devotion to duty when under fire in battle on land. Six months later, in August 1944, the FSSF landed at Îles d'Hyères during Operation Dragoon, the invasion of southern France. On 1 September, Sergeant Prince led a two-man reconnaissance patrol deep behind German lines near L'Escarène and gained valuable and accurate information about the enemy's outpost positions, gun emplacements and an encampment area of an enemy reserve battalion. Prince pressed onward to his unit with the intelligence and walked back 70 kilometres over rugged, mountainous terrain and without food or sleep for 72 hours. He returned to the site, this time leading the brigade to the site, resulting in the capture of more than 1,000 German soldiers. Due to his "keen sense of responsibility and devotion to duty" he was recommended for the Silver Star, the third-highest military combat decoration that can be awarded by the United States for gallantry in action. Following the end of the fighting in southern France, Prince was summoned to an investiture at Buckingham Palace, where King George VI decorated him on 12 February 1945 with the Military Medal and, on behalf of the president of the United States, the Silver Star. It is worth noting that there were only 59 Canadians awarded the Silver Star, and only three also received the Military Medal. After demobilization, he re-enlisted in 1950 with the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry to serve during the Korean War. Throughout his military career, Prince was awarded a total of twelve medals, making him one of Canada's most decorated Indigenous soldiers. Our hero rests at the Brookside Cemetery in Winnipeg. While there are numerous statues, military buildings, murals, streets, parks and scholarships raised and established in his honour, as shown in the photograph, there is the 'Sergeant Tommy Prince School' that is particularly meaningful as it is located in his hometown of Scanterbury, Manitoba.

On this day, 25 October 2021, we commemorate the 106th anniversary of the birth of Sergeant Tommy Prince, M.M. and remember him as a highly-respected hero and leader for Indigenous Peoples and Canadians alike.

André M. Levesque

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