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FIRST SPECIAL SERVICE FORCE - UK


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The year before me and Chris went up La Defensa, myself, John Dallimore and Kyle McNally of the Ontario section climbed on the north face, secured the plaque and spent a day up there...

 

It wasn't until 2008 when we returned, nine of us in the group, including our Canadian group member Jon Fortin a Capt in the Canadian Armed Forces, and FSSF veteran William "Sam" Magee (whom we got up there and camped out wi us, the first (and possibly last) veteran since WWII)...

 

But, let's backtrack a bit and start at the beginning, and that was when I attended the FSSF Reunion in Rome to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the liberation of that city...That's where I was introduced to Sam Magee (and no doubt you'll be hearing about him some more)...So, since we're all telling old stories and to put our escapades to Italy into perspective, here's that story:

 

On the 4th of June 1944, the First Special Service Force entered the suburbs of Rome in order to secure the crossings of the River Tiber. Meeting some resistance, the Forcemen the Germans called "the Black Devils", managed to secure a total of 8 bridges by 2300 hrs. Two days later this historic event was overshadowed when it was announced that the long awaited invasion of Northern Europe had begun with Operation Overlord, the beach landings in Normandy. The "D-day dodgers" as they had been called, some of whom had been fighting bitterly for nearly three years, had been forgotten.

 

On the 60th anniversary of the events leading up to this historic day, some of the FSSF Veterans where there in rememberance of their comrades, possibly for the last time. Paul Dray traveled there to meet them, this is his story:-

 

Due to work commitments I arrived on the Wednesday, half way through the Veterans week long visit, I was however, not to be disapointed. As luck would have it, I found a room in a hostel at the bottom of Via Cavour, the same street as the Veterans hotel. I dumped my rucksack and strolled up to the hotel, the day was hot, I rolled up my sleeves and broke sweat.

 

I arrived at the hotel as they where being interviewed. As they appeared, I introduced myself and sat down for some talk. Ken Jones, who had been a member of Darby's Rangers, had fought all the way up from Africa, transfered to the Force and had been wounded, he lay there, and some German came along and shot him again three times, left him for dead, he's got one lung now.

 

Sam Finn, a Veteran of Darbys Rangers, transfered to the Force had also been a Re-Enactor in the 80s, mentioned that some group had brought to the US a Tiger tank for battling, and "last time I had seen one of them, I was shooting at it".

 

As promised by General Ed Thomas, I got a seat on the coach to spend an evening at the Canadian Embassy for refreshments and dinner, offcourse, the Canadian Ambassador was there, as well as the US Ambassador. It was amazing, and although I shouldn't have been, I was surprised that I had been taken along and accepted as part of the family.

 

The next day, I was to get a hitch on the coach to Artena for ceremonies and wreath laying, my watch was still set at UK time, so naturally I didn't have plenty of time to sit in a cafe and sip hot coffee and munch on a ciabata, I was in fact an our behind the rest of Rome! Missing the coach, I made my own way to Artena, train to Colle Ferro, walk, wait for bus, try to hitchhike, eventually got a bus to Artena and having no idea where to go, followed my nose up to the main Plaza just in time for the wreath laying ceremony next to the FSSF Memorial Plaque (on the left, Ed Thomas 2nd from standard) . I got a lift in a Police car to the Restaraunt where the Veterans where treated to lunch on the town. Sitting next to Loydd Dunlop, though he never talked about it, I know he was mentioned in despatches. At Anzio Sgt Dunlop, was senior NCO in charge of communications and always excelled in his duties. Sam Magee, with medals as long as your arm, amongst them the Silver Star, and the Bronze Star, the only Canadian twice decorated by President Roosevelt got us a lift by Michael McGuire of the Chicago Tribune to the Mussolini Canal and off we went.

 

After a few mix ups (so I gave up navigating - Italy), we where on our way, more than likely along the same route that the FSSF had approached from the Anzio Beachead back in '44. At the canal, Sam wanted to find the stretch of canal where he was stationed, a part that had the bed concreted over, the rest being stone bedded. After stopping at a few bridges, there it was! The part which is still concreted! Sam was so excited, it was great to see. I could spend a whole page on this part of the trip to Rome, but suffice to say, whilst we where looking, a farmer stopped by and asked if Sam was FSSF? Can you beleive it! He had seen some Airborne Veterans some years before, and knew so much! We found at least two original houses that where there, one was completely abandoned and we had a look around. One memory Sam shared, back in '44, he had opened a door to one of these houses, and found someone stairing back at him, he doesn't know why he didn't pull the trigger, but it was in fact himself stairing in a mirror. One can imagine a highly charged encounter like that in the pitch black! Another memory he shared, and this I found brilliant, was that there was one guy who had rigged up some kind of propellar in the canal to a generator with a line all the way back to his bivouac for a light!

 

The next day was the biggest on the itinery, the 4th of June. With the Rome Police escorting our coach, there was a morning of wreath laying at the FSSF Memorial Tablet (commemorating the fact that they where first into Rome) at the Ancient Roman Wall near St Paul's Gate, another at the Vittorio Emanuele 11 Monument, a visit to the Quirinal Palace for an address from the Italian President to the FSSF Association (there, security was stringent, the guards where HUGE, over 6ft 6" I have never seen guys so tall)!

 

The last official stop was to be the best and most bizzare, the coach with our police escort, drew up to a road block, whereupon we had to wait for 15 or so minutes, till a cavalcade of black serious looking vehicles passed us by and we where allowed to procceed to follow on our way to a high security visit to the Villa Taverna for a private speach by President Bush flanked by the US Ambassador and Colin Powell. There I was, surrounded by dignataries, military personnell, WW2 FSSF and 3rd Infantry Veterans, as well as various other hobnobs and hangers on, including myself a guy from Leith, Edinburgh, 20 feet or so from who must be the most important man in the world at the moment. I can only say that his speech was inspiring, enlightening, and generally very good, well presented and the there was some real serious guys around!

 

The evening was finished off with a dinner to the Rex Regina (?) restaraunt for wine and song (literary). One thing that will stay in my memory for the rest of my life is this. We walked in unannounced, there where some local people dining away, but they stopped and gave the guys a standing ovation! Completely spontainious and with real feeling, I am sure there where lumps in some peoples throats. I sat next to Emil Brodofski and across from Ken Jones and had a great time which went far too quick. The next morning I was at the hotel for my goodbuys.

 

Whilst there are most re-enactors celebrating the D-Day landings in Normandy, we should not forget that there was a war going on way before, and should not be forgotten. The members of the First Special Service Force where, (and are) real special (no pun intended), I found their undying bond they have for each other inspiring, and believe me, we should never forget the sacrifices that these, and other WW2 Vererans of the Allied and other Forces made in order for Ours and other generations to have the right to free speech, and the freedoms that we all now enjoy, I know that some Italians remember this.

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Cobrahistorian

Well, as a founding member of FSSFLHG and as a currently serving US Army officer, all I can say is

 

Back off Rock.

 

You made your point three pages ago, your criticism is duly noted and understood. No one has said you're wrong either. But the incessant badgering of members of this forum who actually get out and educate the public on the First Special Service Force just makes you look bad.

 

We get it. You were a hooah, Eleven-bang-bang recondo in the 82nd and there is no way we could even rate as high as the dirt on the bottoms of your Corcorans (despite the fact that we have several current and former servicemen from both the US and Canadian militaries amongst our numbers).

 

There are plenty of reasons to criticize reenactors. We do it all the time. But we take the time to do the research and learn the correct way to do things. The First Special Service Force Association has noted this and given us their official blessing as the only sanctioned group to represent their history.

 

Jon

 

Currently serving 15A on the pointy end of the stick.

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Well, as a founding member of FSSFLHG and as a currently serving US Army officer, all I can say is

 

Back off Rock.

 

You made your point three pages ago, your criticism is duly noted and understood. No one has said you're wrong either. But the incessant badgering of members of this forum who actually get out and educate the public on the First Special Service Force just makes you look bad.

 

We get it. You were a hooah, Eleven-bang-bang recondo in the 82nd and there is no way we could even rate as high as the dirt on the bottoms of your Corcorans (despite the fact that we have several current and former servicemen from both the US and Canadian militaries amongst our numbers).

 

There are plenty of reasons to criticize reenactors. We do it all the time. But we take the time to do the research and learn the correct way to do things. The First Special Service Force Association has noted this and given us their official blessing as the only sanctioned group to represent their history.

 

Jon

 

Currently serving 15A on the pointy end of the stick.

 

Hi Jon

 

It's cool mate, Rock had his say, we had ours...The passion he feels has shone thru and we appreciate that, as I've said "we take all critiques on the chin", nothing can shake us into bleating to the mods or complaining, and we hold no grudges, explanations where expressed from both sides, a few PMs shared, and after a group hug we all kissed and made up(not that we actually fell out in any case), Rock is more than welcome to come into any of our threads, and if he's ever in the UK, WE would then be really insulted should he decline to visit us at our base in Bushey (and miss the chance to drop by the Gusville Saloon and get that beer..lol)...So let's hope we can put that to rest and carry on...

 

Which reminds me....

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Since their initial landings in Salerno, Italy on 1st September 1943, the Allies had been pitted against a battle hardened enemy in a war of rain, mud, and endless mountains as they advanced north towards Rome. By November they where up against Field Marshal Kesselring's Winter Line, a formidable barrier that stretched over mountains and hills accross the breadth of Italy. Defending this was some of the Wehrmacht's best, fighting a savage and bitter delaying action that had stopped the Allied advance on the approach to the Liri Valley, through which ran Highway 6 to Rome.

 

The key to penetrating the Winter Line was a steep, rocky mountain spur named Monte La Difensa, the dominating feature of the Camino Hill mass overlooking the Mignano Gap, the gateway into the Liri Valley. For weeks the Allies had been pitted against this 3,100ft lump of volcanic rock only to be repulsed at every attempt. La Difensa itself was a dead volcano, the north side having a collar of rock and then a series of sheer climbs up to the lip which overlooked a saucer shaped depression about the "size of a football pitch" with connecting saddles over towards Camino to the south and Remetanea to the west. Every conceivable approach had been covered, except the north side, the Germans reckoned it was too steep for anyone to attempt, and so left it comparitively unguarded.

 

dayoutnov14-2.jpg

 

It was decided that the job would now be handed to Col. R. T. Frederick's unit, the "First Special Service Force" (see Skirmish February 2002). A unit made up from US and Canadian personnel which other GIs had viewed with sceptism whom they called "maverick" and untested, they where soon to be proved wrong. A Force recon of the mountain concluded that the only way to attack with any chance of success would be the cliff face, the German back door.

 

difensa.jpg

 

On December 2, the Force began the ascent. Spending the next day hidden in the tree lines, the final ascent resumed with the begining of dark. The final approach being almost vertical, in the freezing rain, loaded down with packs and ammunition the Forcemen silently scrambled up. Led by the 2nd Regiment, 1st and 2nd companies emerged at the top and formed up. As the 3rd company was emerging and forming up themselves, some rocks got knocked over, and "all hell broke loose" the Germans who were completely taken by surprise, were quickly overrun and were on the retreat to the adjoining Remetanea and Camino hills. The Force had achieved within two hours what the Allies had been trying to do for weeks.

 

The whole adventure to re-enact this historic moment began with an email from the re-enactor John Dallimore, he and Kyle McNally from the Canadian Section of the FSSF Living History Group were going to climb La Difensa and lay a plaque commemorating the battle of 60 years ago. Then, meeting the Canadian William "Sam" Magee, a Force veteran of 6-3, in Gatwick Airport, London and to meet with the guys from the FSSF Living History Group UK at my home. Spending the evening talking, refreshments and later, a short nap, myself and Sam where off to Rome in the early hours of the next day, arriving in Rome to a glorious sunny day we were met with John and Kyle who flew in from Ontario, Canada. We all then met up with Mike McGuire (Chicago Tribune) and an Italian historical researcher and our host, the FSSF enthusiast Gianni Blasi (Proffesor in English), and spent the evening planning the next days climb up La Difensa at his place.

 

At this point it is worth noting that Sam was a member of 6 Co. 3rd Regiment. He was with us on a consultancy basis because, as he put it himself, this was "our show", he was with us to observe. We where the ones performing this historical task, there had been people up there since the War, but no re-enactors, and to our knowledge, no representatives from the descendent units of the Force, and certainly no one up the north face.

 

 

 

The next day, we headed to the base of La Difensa where we where met with our guide, Angelo Andreoli. After a very welcome lunch and refreshments , we then proceeded to ascend around the same route the Force had taken so many years ago. Angelo, an ex-Italian Para, had been up on several occasions and this was to be "just another" for him..whilst for us, a first.

 

Sam and Gianni bade us a farewell, and dressed in our jump boots, Mountain Trousers and M43 jackets we began our ascent. The climb itself was fairly easy once we all got our pace set but we still sweated with our packs. Once we were in the tree line the going got more vertical and the ground became rough with loose rocks everwhere. To top it all off, it then poured from the heavens! With nowhere to shelter we got completely soaked (which I found out was to be a regular occurence up there), and the ground now became slippery and extremely hard going. The last stretch being almost vertical in parts, our final climb was on the adjoining escarpment the Force took. Although the rock was wet and slippery, we had full daylight, there wasn't freezing sleet on our faces, and we weren't loaded down with weapons and ammunition - And there weren't any German's looking down on us, nervous trigger fingers at the ready.

 

I have to say, at times my heart was in my mouth especially when Kyle, when a rock came lose in his hand, slipped and fell nearly four feet onto a ledge, almost into the cliff bellow. I had a 50 lb Mountain Ruck , the others their Musette bags and I later found out one of the others, along with me, was scared of heights!!

 

We finally emerged from the climb onto the lip overlooking the saucer, on the side that the 2nd Company made their attack. The view before us was one of an oblong saucer shaped depression just about the size of a football pitch (as correctly described in one of the books about the FSSF), with a rise on our right (where the 1st Co. emerged) and to our left, a series of interlocking rocky buttresses leading to the actual summit. I have to say, it is smaller than I and the other guys thought, and one can imagine that it was indeed very close quarter fighting, which at the time 60 years ago, was covered in a thick blanket of intermittent fog.

 

We found a few items of interest, some of them being a coffee can (with petrified coffee inside), some live and spent rounds, lost's of shrapnell, a large depression the size of a bunker which, upon reading the accounts, might have been where Ed Thomas took shelter for four days after being wounded in the leg. There was a cave nearby, with a smaller one above on the rise, where it was said that a sniper emerged to shoot down a few Forcemen, and are buried on the spot. We came across an area which we reckon was where Sam told us of an instant where he delivered some cigarettes to some comrades. One thing that became apparent was there was virtually no cover, and from the written recollections, and from what Sam told us, men where sheltering behind small rocks which would become big boulders in the heat of battle.

 

The remainder of the day was spent roaming the battlesite and just simply taking everything in. The Germans knew exactly what they where doing up there as one can see the whole of the countryside on either side of the valley, right up to Cassino and beyond, it certainly was a commanding position and how these men did the job of taking it in complete surpise, in the middle of the freezing Italian winter is totally amazing. One thing which surprise us was the amount of well trodden paths up there, at first I thought it could be goats, but John pointed out the "little messages" left everywhere and said they belonged to cattle, being a vet,he knows, and was later justified when we heard the tinkling of cowbells in the distance.

 

The evening was spent in the rain, it was as if the Gods looked down on us and said "well, if you want to experience how it was like, here it is", and it poured!! After a brief respite, the heavens really opened up and there was a heavy downpour accompanied by tremendous lightning, which passed over us and carried on down the valley. The Gods where really giving us a show as it looked to us like a rolling artillery barrage as it moved away into the distance. We all got soaked through, but at least it wasn't freezing. The night was spent in soaking wet sleeping bags, and the morning sunshine was a welcome sight. After breakfast, and with the cow bells tinkling nearby we had another look around. The previous evenings rain had washed the topsoil from one of the paths and exposed yet some more artifacts including the remains of some US webbing which had been discarded perhaps by a wounded soldier.

 

We chose a suitable site for the commemorative plaque which John and Kyle had brought from Canada (see photos), right on the area of where we actually arrived on the lip, in a commanding view of the surrounding countryside. Angelo arrived, and we began our descent down the mountain, heading in the direction of Camino and the prospects of a more gentle, easy descent, but we were in for a surprise. We took in the saddle connecting the two peaks, reconnoitred the area where the US 3rd Division made their attempts, descending down a sheer slope to a cave where a live 105mm round was reported to be. We found it, and made our way again. Went back up into the British sector, Camino area and it was then a gentle walk to Angelo's car and a ride back to end the day with a late lunch, after which we visited Cassino Museum run by Alessandro Capagna, with lot's of displays and artifacts. Well recommended if you ever go there.

 

The next day was breakfast at the Canadian Ambassador's residence with Gianni Blasi, Alessandro Campagna, Mike McGuire, Paul Dray, John Dallimore, Kyle McNally, William "Sam" Magee, and offcourse, Ambassador Fowler. We arrived in our Class A uniforms and had some informal discussions about our climb and the whole campaign of 60 years ago. Later, we visited the excellent Museum of "Piana Delle Orme" just outside of Latine on the area of the Anzio beachhead, and we were greatly impressed.

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Guest Alaskan Scout

A question about the Mountain anorkas...WHERE DID YOU GET THEM? Are they repro or real?

 

anzio_10.jpg

 

 

 

 

Id love to get one of those up here and drag it up to Wolverine before winter goes bye bye...

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A question about the Mountain anorkas...WHERE DID YOU GET THEM? Are they repro or real?

 

anzio_10.jpg

Id love to get one of those up here and drag it up to Wolverine before winter goes bye bye...

 

Can ye get some wolf fur? Ye can get a shabby one on Ebay quite cheap, and they're called "mountain parkas, reversable, white/OD", give them an oxi clean, and replace the fur trim...

 

There where two patterns, the 1st, which had no fur, elasticated cuffs, and a zipper at the neck...the 2nd which had buttoned cuffs and furr trim on the hood, and button enclosure in the neck..

Another pattern was the ski parka, which had fur trim on the cuffs and hood, no buttons or zipper on the neck, just a draw string, oh, and it was longer, down past the knees (on a short arse like me anyway)...

 

whtapriceglory makes repros aswell (or used to), the OD is very green, but for the white side, they're good, the fur is rabbit, but looks very good...

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A question about the Mountain anorkas...WHERE DID YOU GET THEM? Are they repro or real?

 

anzio_10.jpg

Id love to get one of those up here and drag it up to Wolverine before winter goes bye bye...

 

Can ye get some wolf fur? Ye can get a shabby one on Ebay quite cheap, and they're called "mountain parkas, reversable, white/OD", give them an oxi clean, and replace the fur trim...

 

There where two patterns, the 1st, which had no fur, elasticated cuffs, and a zipper at the neck...the 2nd which had buttoned cuffs and furr trim on the hood, and button enclosure in the neck..

Another pattern was the ski parka, which had fur trim on the cuffs and hood, no buttons or zipper on the neck, just a draw string, oh, and it was longer, down past the knees (on a short arse like me anyway)...

 

I've had quite a few pass through my hands, and I have had to oxi clean most of them as the fur trim was naffed, but it really brings up the whiteness....

 

whtapriceglory makes repros aswell (or used to), the OD is very green, but for the white side, they're good, the fur is rabbit, but looks very good...

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Guest Alaskan Scout

Wolf fur is quite common here...I have a M51 with the hood having Wolf Fur..Its suppose to be very rare and Ive only seen one since i been here and its the one i have...

 

I didnt knowe WPG made them...I was there yesterday on thier site and only say the trousers and jacket but ill have another look..thanks forthe reply!

 

 

To the maker, great thread !

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Wolf fur is quite common here...I have a M51 with the hood having Wolf Fur..Its suppose to be very rare and Ive only seen one since i been here and its the one i have...

 

I didnt knowe WPG made them...I was there yesterday on thier site and only say the trousers and jacket but ill have another look..thanks forthe reply!

To the maker, great thread !

 

I'm after as much wolf fur as ue can ge me, well, not truckloads...lol

 

I'll look on ebay for ye...

 

Where in Alaska are ye?...My uncle is near Ketchikan

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Guest Alaskan Scout
I'm after as much wolf fur as ue can ge me, well, not truckloads...lol

 

I'll look on ebay for ye...

 

Where in Alaska are ye?...My uncle is near Ketchikan

 

 

Wolf is common but expensive as hell....a small pelt will run you 400$

 

There are loads of fur shops online that are located near me here in Anchorage...They have an action each year where its pretty cheap. They sell off all the furs poached to raise monet to enfoce game laws up here..poaching is rampid...

 

Yeah Ketchican is way south of me....Cheaper to fly to London!

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  • 2 weeks later...
DesertRatTom

Great pics! Did you find a maker for the pull over parkas? And where??

Regards,

Tom

 

The FSSF LHG (UK Section) consists of members who have in common an interest in WW2 history and the desire to accurately portray the First Special Service Force in both it's appearance and it’s spirit, therefore we dress and act accordingly. The Force was a unique unit, and doing a complete impression of such a unit requires great dedication, and although we have a relaxed and generous nature, only serious people who are committed will ultimately be accepted into the First Special Service Force Living History Group UK.

 

The kind of events we take part in are:

 

Living history displays, where items of kit and equipment are displayed for the public’s education and enjoyment. Other activities are actual field trips to the battlefields in the uniforms and using the equipment of the Force.

 

We are based at Bushy in the UK which is the site of the former 8th USAAF Fighter Command base during WWII, and later through to the Cold War years up to 1957.

 

At public and private events, we take a very relaxed and friendly attitude, however, we always bear in mind that we are wearing a military uniform and all eyes are upon us, therefore we adopt the military code of conduct. REAL soldiers follow orders. The same holds true of FSSF LHG UK! We cannot accurately recreate the structure of a military unit without the impression of a realistic chain of command, however hollow that may be, and you never know when or if an FSSF veteran will appear, believe it! It can happen!!.

The FSSF was somewhat unique and innovative in it’s style of uniforms, so we dress and act with integrity. Genuine and reproduction uniforms and field gear are as near perfect as we can get, however, no modern, anachronistic material is permitted! The public eye is upon us (and members of other groups), and they certainly do pick up on any shortcomings or imperfections, so you won't find bags of crisps, noserings, goatees, or mobile phones! All our foodstuffs are disguised in rations style wrappers and boxes. We have put a lot of reasearch into FSSF uniforms, and insignia, and we wear our uniforms in a 1940's style.

 

The FSSF trained and fought in some of the worst winter conditions of WWII North America and Europe and with our recent spate of snow, we could not miss this opportunity to get out and take a few photos at our base in Bushey, here is our most recent photoset in some "real" snow (well, for us here i the UK):

 

snow28.jpg

 

snow22.jpg

 

snow1.jpg

 

snow10.jpg

 

snow2.jpg

 

snow7.jpg

 

snow6.jpg

 

snow8.jpg

 

snow29.jpg

 

snow32.jpg

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Tom

 

those parkas are original...For repro I once went to WPG, the OD was a bit grass green, the white perfect, and the fur was rabbit fur but looked fine...The aterial wasn't right, but hey ho, for aphotoshoot, converted to B&W and aged, their good to go...

 

As for original, Ebay, ye can get them cheaply if they're trashed, usually the fur is trashed or removed, so give them an oxi clean, locate some wolf furr or something similar and yer good to go...I've had several pass through my hands, and only had a couple with the fur intact...One item still had the cutter tags on, a bit "pricey" at $200 (??), though worth it in my eyes...The cheapest I bought was for $33....

 

Hope this helps..always willing to give advice...

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  • 1 month later...

Just going through some old photos:

 

With FSSF veteran Sam Magee in the "Gusville Saloon":

Copyoflincolnssept2007178.jpg

 

On top of La Defensa:

Camp2.jpg

 

Me and Phil in S. France (I don't wear glasses anymore):

REST3.jpg

 

Our camp:

PICT0012.jpg

 

My daughter comes along as Italian/French (take yer pick) orphan:

PICT0011.jpg

 

Camino Village, about to ascend La Defensa (veteran Sam Magee in middle):

Picture201104.jpg

 

Sam packed up and ready to go:

camino2.jpg

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  • 3 months later...
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