Jaak Daemen, the last surviving veteran of Belgium’s legendary Special Air Service (SAS) regiment from World War 2, passed away last weekend at the age of 97, according to Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad.
The Belgian special forces commando took part in hunting down Nazi war criminals, conducted sabotage behind enemy lines in Germany, liberated villages in the occupied Netherlands, and later trained armies in the former Belgian colony in Congo.
“He used to always say: freedom doesn’t come free,” his son Marc told Het Nieuwsblad, “You have to fight for it sometimes.”
In April 1945, during Operation Larkswood, during which the Dutch city of Groningen was liberated by English-trained Belgian and Polish paratroopers, Daemen’s group penetrated deep behind German lines, swimming through the canal to encircle German forces, at the expense of three of their Belgian comrades.
“My father felt it was his duty to serve his homeland. He wanted his countrymen and his descendants to live in freedom,” Marc said. As a teenager, his father participated in the underground Belgian resistance.
Upon the outbreak of the war, Daemen was just 16-years-old, and joined the Leopoldsburg Secret army, transporting secret pamphlets and stealing explosives from a mine in Beringen, which was used by resistance members to blow up a bridge at Balen, which at the time, was an important line of communication for the Germans.
Daemen would remain active in the resistance for two years, after which he went into hiding after several of his fellow partisans were arrested by German forces. During the allied liberation of Brussels, he volunteered for a new Belgian paratrooper regiment. Travelling to England, he received training from British forces and became part of the first Belgian elite SAS group.
After defeating the enemy in the Netherlands, Daemen joined in the hunt for German Admiral Karl Dönitz, who was made president of Nazi Germany after the suicide of Adolf Hitler in the Führerbunker in 1945.
Who dares, wins
In 1948, at the age of 24, Daemen left for the Belgian Congo to help train the Force Publique– the army of the Belgian Congo. For 20 years, the Belgian commando helped organise and train armies in both the independent Congo and later Burundi.
Even after his long and decorated career with the Belgian army, Daemen continued his career as a tour operator, working in the Canary Islands and Italy. It is believed that during his time in the tourism industry, Daemen remained an active intelligence officer for the Belgian military and state.
“We don’t know much about it, but it had to do with the conflicts at the time between Mauritania and Morocco, and in the Balkans. Even my mother didn’t know that,” his son explained.
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In 1980, Daemen settled back into his hometown of Leopoldsburg. There, with other SAS veterans, he took part in annual commemorations in the Belgian and Netherlands to his fallen comrades in WW2.
Unfortunately, three years ago, the veteran suffered a fractured vertebra which sent him to a residential care centre. “Yet he always kept fighting,” his son said. “Never surrender was the motto of the SAS and of my father.”
A funeral service for Daemen will be held on 13 August at 10:30 in the church of Leopoldsburg.