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Tommy Prince

FROM THE Heritage Minutes COLLECTION

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Thomas George Prince was born 25 October 1915 at Petersfield, Manitoba. He was one of 11 children born to Harry and Elizabeth (née Desjarlais) Prince of the Brokenhead Band. He was a descendant of Peguis, the Saulteaux Chief. In 1920, the family moved to Scanterbury, Manitoba, on the Brokenhead Reserve.

 Although Prince easily met the requirements for recruitment into the army, he was turned down several times before he was finally accepted on 3 June 1940. He 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.

 In 1944 in Italy, Sergeant Prince was spying on the Germans. He set up an observation post in an abandoned farmhouse, a short distance from the enemy. For days, he reported on the activity in the German camp. Soon after, shelling severed the 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 break in full view of the German soldiers. His actions resulted in the destruction of four enemy tanks that had been firing on the Allies.

 Prince continued to distinguish himself. In the summer of 1944, he walked across miles of mountainous terrain deep behind German lines, going days without food or water, to locate an enemy camp. He returned with his unit and they captured more than 1000 German soldiers.

 When the fighting ended, King George VI decorated Prince with both the Military Medal and the Silver Star, an American decoration for gallantry in action. He was honorably discharged on 15 June.

 Prince returned from the wars to a country that denied him the right to vote in federal elections and refused him the same benefits as other Canadian veterans. The business that he had entrusted to a friend had failed in his absence. Facing unemployment, Prince re-enlisted and served with the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. During two tours of duty during the Korean War he won the Korean, Canadian Volunteer Service and United Nations Service medals. He was wounded in the knee, and was honourably discharged on 28 October 1953.

 Tommy Prince is Canada’s most-decorated Aboriginal war veteran. He was also 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 had wanted to do something to help my people recover their good name." He dedicated himself to attaining increased educational and economic opportunities for Aboriginal peoples.

Heritage Minute Cast

Tommy Prince        Thomas King
Beryl Prince        Jennifer Podemski
Colonel        Wayne Best

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