Intermission Stories (16)

Sgt. Tommy Prince

Sgt. Tommy Prince

Thomas George Prince

WWII and Korean War Veteran

Tommy Prince was born 25 October 1915 at Petersfield, Manitoba as one of 11 children, a descendant of Peguis, the Saulteaux Chief.  In 1920, the family moved to Scanterbury, Manitoba on the Brokenhead Reserve.  Although he easily met the requirements for the army, he was turned downed several times before finally being accepted on 3 June 1940.

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Tommy did well in the army, first as a Field Engineer and then with the Canadian Parachute Battalion.  He was among a select group chosen to train with a specialized assault team, the 1st Special Service Force.  They became known to the enemy as the Devil’s Brigade.

Tommy Prince w/ his brother Morris at Buckingham Palace

Tommy Prince w/ his brother Morris at Buckingham Palace

In 1944 in Italy, Sgt. Prince was spying on the Germans.  He set up an observation post in an abandoned farmhouse.  For days he reported on the activity in the nearby German camp.  Soon after, shelling severed his communication wire.   Undaunted, Prince donned civilian clothing and acted as a farmer tending his crops.  By pretending to tie his shoes, he successfully repaired the broken wire in full view of enemy soldiers.  His actions resulted in the destruction of 4 German tanks that had been firing on the Allies.

Monument at Kildonan Park, Winnipeg

Monument at Kildonan Park, Winnipeg

Prince continued to distinguished himself.  In the summer of 1944, he walked across miles of mountainous terrain, behind enemy lines, going days without food or water, to locate an enemy camp.  He returned to his unit with the intelligence and they captured more than 1,000 German soldiers.  When the fighting ended, King George VI decorated Prince with both the Military Medal and the American Silver Star.  He was honorably discharged on 15 June.

Tommy Prince returned home to a country that denied him the right to vote in federal elections and other Canadians veteran benefits.  The business he had entrusted to a friend had failed while he was away, so rather than face unemployment, he re-enlisted.  This time Prince was assigned to the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI).  During 2 tours of duty in the Korean War, he won numerous medals (pictured),  he was wounded in the knee, and honorably discharged on 28 October 1953.

Medal array

Medal array

After the war, he was was once again in the news as a civilian for saving a man’s life at the Alexander Docks, June  ’55.  A film was made about Tommy and his part was played by Adam Beach, also from Manitoba, entitled Tommy Prince: Prince of the Devils.

Adam Beach

Adam Beach

Sgt. Tommy Prince is Canada’s most decorated Aboriginal war veteran and proved himself to be a brave and remarkable man.  Prince had a strong sense of civic duty and a fierce pride in his people.  He said, “All my life I wanted to do something to help my people recover their good name.”

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The Canadian hero passed away on 25 November 1977, he was 62 years of age.

This story was taken and condensed from Historica Canada.ca and newspaper archives.

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Farewell Salutes – 

Joseph Aliano – Phoenix, AZ; US Army (Ret.), Bronze Star

A Farewell Salute

A Farewell Salute

Earl Buell – Cunningham, Ca; US Navy, CW03 (Ret.), WWII, POW

Joseph Bull – Dargaville, NZ; RASC # T/10665006, WWII

William Dougherty – Glen Cove, NY; US Navy,USS Wharton & Submarine Sea Poacher

Robert Firlan – Eagle River, AK; US Army, Iraq, Afghanistan, Purple Heart

Louis Gelabert, Jr. – East Meadow, NY;   US Army Air Corps, 1946-49

Ernest Johnston, Jr. – Palm Beach, FL; US Navy, WWII

Richard Liguori – Arden, NC; US Coast Guard, Korea

Al Pease – Canada; WWII, Hall of Fame racecar driver

William Scheid – Chicago, IL; US Army, WWII

Larry Williamson – Vienna, VA; USMC, Lt., Korea

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About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on May 12, 2014, in Korean War, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 95 Comments.

  1. Reblogged this on quirkywritingcorner and commented:
    Keep all our military in your prayers.

    Like

  2. Pretending to tie his shoes and repairing that line, now that is crafty…lol

    Like

  3. I’ve missed so many of your stories….. 😞

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  4. A fascinating story on a man who was a credit to his ancestors and his country.
    He surely must have had nerves of steel to accomplish some of his deeds.
    A hero and a brave warrior, born to the Craft of Arms I think.
    Ian

    Like

  5. gpcox, the story of Tommy Prince was so inspiring, now he is a Real Hero! that word gets bandied around today but this is what a real hero stands for. And yes, he wasn’t respected when he came back home by those who were happy for him to defend their country and themselves . But it was no different in our country , we treated our brave Aboriginal servicemen exactly the same . Today we don’t have to carry the guilt , but we can be ashamed of how some of our forefathers acted.

    Thanks
    Ron

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think every country has that situation somewhere in their past. Our Buffalo soldiers and Tuskegee pilots to name two. If you have any links to stories for the Aboriginal soldiers, please add them here.

      Like

    • Hi gpcox – I was wondering if I could use a few photos from your blog to put into a video I am making – not too many – but would like a few seeing that it is my Monday Walk post – and it just so happens to be Memorial Day too –
      ~yvette

      Like

      • You go right ahead and use the photos – no problem. Monday might be pretty busy for me, but I WILL get there to see it. Have a Memorable Monday!

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        • well first- thanks for the okay – but we had a change of plans and Monday is out for me too – – 🙂

          and so I will do the video idea thing later this summer – and I will be in touch when I do it – cool? But thanks for saying yes – and I will give full credit! have a nice day

          Like

  6. Adam Beach is the right actor to portray Prince. Excellent, excellent.

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    • Isn’t he tho!! He’s even from Manitoba! The poor guy teared up during the press conference to announce that he would play the staring role – Beach showed the respect he had for Prince rather than orating for the newsmen.

      Like

  7. A great story GP… and a theme repeated over and over, where people succeed regardless of the obstacles society throws in their way. –Curt

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    • Thanks, Curt. The human mind and body is quite capable of handling much more than we give it credit for. People like Tommy prove that, just as POWs do.

      Like

  8. Thank you for sharing this inspirational story. It’s not fair to judge the past with today’s values, but I wonder what this hero might have achieved if he had a better shot at adjusting to civilian life. Sergeant Prince’s struggle typifies the silent turmoil that many veterans of many wars must endure. Great job!

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  9. This is a fantastic story! I remember learning a VERY little bit about Mr Prince at some point but you have posted a great article and made it very engaging to read.

    Sadly, that type of indomitable spirit, couple with an easy-go-lucky take on life and a real sense of purpose, is missing from modern North America. Thus he serves as a role model for us all, and his bravery, and your post, helps make the world just a little bit better!

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  10. A story of grit and determination to be the best he can – and he exceeded most.

    “…returned home to a country that denied him the right to vote in federal elections and other Canadians veteran benefits…” > I’m sure the people who upheld such injustice are proud of themselves!

    Unfortunately, this is prevalent in all countries – even now – to a more or less degree.

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    • Sadly, what happened to Tommy has happened in most countries – nothing to be proud of there. But thank you very much for coming by and reading his story, Eric. The man definitely deserves to be remembered.

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  11. Thanks for this succinct take on this hero – and wow – he died kinda young at 62 – 😦 – but what a story – and when you hear that his business failed while away – well it shows not only how to adapt – but also how everything happens for a reason…. so he could reenlist –

    anyhow, also really enjoyed this part: “By pretending to tie his shoes, he successfully repaired the broken wire in full view of enemy soldiers…”

    have a nice day. 🙂

    Like

  12. Great story, and I am glad about his honours, but so sad to hear about the treatment he received simply for belonging to a minority group.

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  13. Simply indomitable spirit.

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  14. As a Canadian I am so pleased to learn of this remarkable man and so saddened to her his civilian life was not as it should have been.

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    • I can understand your feelings. Racism comes in many forms. The Aborigines in Australia had very similar experiences and, of course, we in the US have had our problems. Thank you for reading and helping us to remember, Sue.

      Like

  15. Congratulations! I have nominated you for either the Community Blogger Award or Versatile Blogger Award. Please go to the site below for the details.
    http://talesalongtheway.com/2014/05/13/community-and-versatile-blogger-awards/

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  16. He sure figured out a clever way to repair the communications line!

    Like

  17. What an amazing man and one I’m sorry to say as a Canadian I didn’t know about. There is more recognition these days of PTSD but returning soldiers still don’t get the support they need. Great post.

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    • That’s what I’ve been hearing, Carol. We are having VA problems as well. (Sad to say, but I don’t think the government expected so many soldiers to be wounded in Iraq & Afghanistan and survive – the numbers overwhelmed them – but that’s no excuse.)

      Like

  18. An excellent post!

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  19. What an amazing story. I love disguising himself as a farmer tending his crops. What common sense.

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  20. Another amazing person with a sad ending.

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  21. Great post about a great hero. Thanks for telling us about him, GP.

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  22. Thank you for this post about Tommy Prince. A solider who loved his country. Cher xo

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  23. God BLESS The Warriors of CANADA!

    Always there when we{USA} need them including ARGO ala iran.

    Like

  24. Remarkable, indeed.

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  25. I so appreciate you shining the light on his courage and accomplishments. Ones struggles were hard enough to bear; no need to memorialize them. Thank you for being a kind and civil editor! Aces!!

    Like

  26. Just the “Devil” I would have liked protecting my village across the Adriatic – which was burned by the Germans. God bless him – I love the part of his “role play” as farmer

    Like

  27. Reblogged this on Farm Your Training Day and commented:
    Extraordinary person, extraordinary inspiration, and gratitude for native American awesomeness in general. Many, many of us have native American blood in us, known or unknown.

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    • I greatly appreciate the reblog, Mike. Although Prince was from Manitoba, the blood line is very similar. I have many Native American friends, I hope I can consider you as one of them.

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      • Thanks much for shining a light on these inspiring people. I’ve seen the features in some of my ancestors on my father’s side, and my wife too; still we’ve never pursued serious formal recognition although she is 1/16 Cherokee as we understand it. Friend by all means!

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        • They deserved to be remembered, Mike. Without people like Tommy, the North American continent might be very different these days indeed. Thank you for reading.

          Like

  28. I love stories that highlight just how stupid our prejudices are and always have been.

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  29. Another great tribute. It reminded me of the Australian Aboriginal soldiers and how they were still not entitled to citizenship even after their contributions to WW2. You may know the story already but this is a good link http://www.dva.gov.au/benefitsAndServices/ind/Pages/at_war.aspx

    Like

  30. I remember reading something once about Prince’s antics with Nazi soldiers. A couple of times, at least, he snuck into encampments of Wehrmacht soldiers and stole the boots off of the feet of sleeping troopers. Not only is this foolish bravery, but it’s funny.

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    • Maybe that antic was in the movie, I did not read about it, but no one could ever say that Prince wasn’t a very brave soul indeed. Thanks for commenting, Swabby.

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  31. I actually knew Tommy Prince when I was a television news reporter and interviewed him in Winnipeg Manitoba in the mid-70s. He was an impossible guy to dislike. Totally modest and quiet. He loved the army because he found no discrimination there and felt everyone was simply taken as they were. In WW2, in his first action with the Devil’s Brigade before Italy and France, he fought in the Aleutians, a campaign no one remembers now. In Korea he fought at Kapyong where his unit won a Presidential Citation. In his second Korean tour, he was finally taken off night patrolling because it was felt he took too many risks and was endangering his own men, although his men didnt seem to mind. Tommy has become something of a folk hero, not just to Nartive young people, but to Manitobans generally. Its been 40 years since I firsy met him and I still remember his engaging personality. It was wonderful you drew attention to his story.

    Like

    • Thank you for your added info here on Tommy, he deserves all the recognition he can possibly get. From the moment I first read his story, I knew I had to look into it and have it here. He was a role model that never should be forgotten. I appreciate you taking the time here, Dan.

      Like

  32. And I think his life after the army was not a happy one. If I remember correctly he had a problem with alcool and was almost forgotten for history. His medals were put at auctions a few years ago, they were bought by someone and brought back in the village where he was raised.

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    • Yes, that’s true. I chose to edit that part out. I’ve known so many people who were unable to make the military/civilian transition. Thank you for coming by, Nelson.

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  33. What an incredible man.

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  34. Wonderful tribute to a great Canadian who will never be forgotten.

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  35. An awesome veteran who made a difference for his people, thanks for telling us of this courageous, selfless hero.

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  36. There are thousands of untold stories of the brave men and women who risked their lives in the days of war. They should be remembered and your blog does so. Thank you.

    Like

  37. Pierre Lagacé

    I knew about his story, and wrote something in 2009 about him on Lest We Forget.

    http://athabaskang07.wordpress.com/2009/12/03/tommy-prince-canadian-hero/

    See how we think alike.

    Like

  38. He said, “All my life I wanted to do something to help my people recover their good name.”

    Seems to me it was never lost.

    Like

  1. Pingback: Remembering Korea | Pacific Paratrooper

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