Tommy Prince: The Greatest Hero You've Never Heard Of
Did you know that a Canadian helped create the modern day US Special Forces? He was Indigenous, a war hero, and a survivor of Canada’s residential school system. This is the story of the most badass war hero you’ve never heard of. This is Tommy Prince. As a child in Manitoba, he was forced into a residential school, a government system designed to brutally strip away all Indigenous culture and history. Prince survived and when WW2 began, he decided to enlist in the army.
The army rejected Tommy several times, but he refused to give up. In 1940, they finally let him in. As a soldier, the army quickly realized Tommy had a special skill. It was really, really badass.
Tommy spent countless hours hunting and tracking wildlife near his reserve. As a result, he could sneak up on anybody without being noticed, was an excellent marksman and could follow anyone’s tracks through the weather. That’s pretty useful stuff when you’re fighting a war.
The army quickly put Tommy in a unit that merged with US soldiers to become the First Special Service Force. Sound familiar? It’s where modern day US Special Forces came from. The unit was so secretive they called them the “Devil’s Brigade.” While other soldiers wore boots, Tommy wore moccasins. He would regularly raid Nazi quarters as they slept, steal their things and leave behind terrifying messages in German saying “the worst is yet to come.” The Nazis were terrified.
On one mission, he went ahead of his unit, snuck into Nazi barracks, and dispatched their gunners, in complete silence. He even stole the boots off their feet as they slept. His commander said he moved “just like a shadow.” The Nazis had another name for him: “The Devil.” In 1944, carrying a telephone and phone wire, Tommy crawled to a farmhouse 200 feet away from the Nazis so he could report on their movements. When the phone wire was cut, he was left alone without help. Most people would abandon and return to safety – but not Tommy.
Tommy put on farmer’s clothes and walked out, pretending to tie his shoes. The Nazis fell for it. He repaired the phone line without them knowing, and returned back to the house. But not before shaking his fist at the Nazis first. Like was said: BADASS. He spent three days in that farmhouse, behind enemy lines, sharing valuable details about the Nazis’ movements. Three days. For his work, he was given the Military Medal.
Several months later in France, Tommy and another soldier were on a reconnaissance mission deep inside enemy territory. The French were outnumbered and surrounded. But Tommy wasn’t the kind of person to leave allies in need. Together, Tommy and the second soldier fought back. They surprised the Nazis, getting enough of them to force a retreat. That’s right – two soldiers forced an entire Nazi unit to retreat. The French thought 50 Canadians came to their rescue. It was just Tommy and his buddy. After WWII ended, Tommy returned home to his reservation. Like all Indigenous veterans, he didn’t receive the same benefits as other vets. He gave everything for his country – and his country told him he didn’t deserve to be treated equally because of his heritage. Tommy spent years after WWII fighting for Indigenous rights. Despite how he was treated, when the Korean War broke out, Tommy signed up once again to serve his country.
In Korea, Tommy helped defend the freedom of people he would never meet. He was with the Light Infantry when they were awarded the US Presidential Citation for their efforts. Even though he was a hero, he returned back to a country that refused to see him as equal.
Tommy Prince is one of the most decorated veterans in Canadian history. Without him, it’s unlikely the US Special Forces would exist. He gave everything for his country – a country that nearly took everything away from him. But he never stopped fighting for what was right. We still see you, Tommy Prince of Brokenhead Ojibway Nation. We salute you. And we remember.