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Ham Among Devil’s Brigade Members to Receive Medal

TAGS: World War

A 90-year-old California radio amateur — Stan McEtchin, WB6KDZ, of Paradise — will be among the surviving members of the First Special Service Force (FSSF) known as “The Devil’s Brigade” to receive the Congressional Gold Medal on February 3. The medal recognizes the unit’s extraordinary heroism and service during World War II.

“We used to go behind the lines at night and sit out there, and we could hear the Germans talking,” McEtchin told The Paradise Post. “Our guy would write it down, so we would find out where their guns were and that kind of thing.”

Montana US Senators Jon Tester and Max Baucus worked for 5 years to honor the unit. “The Devil’s Brigade represented the very best of our Greatest Generation that defeated tyranny around the world,” Tester said. “The Medal is the highest honor Congress can bestow, and yet, while a small token of this nation’s gratitude, it is an everlasting reminder of the sacrifices these men made for all of us.” Remarked Baucus, “Without these brave volunteers, there would be no Special Forces today.”

The Devil’s Brigade was based at Fort Harrison in Helena, Montana. It was a top-secret combat unit comprising 1800 volunteers from 49 states, the District of Columbia, and Canada. Their training was the first of its kind, specializing in high alpine combat, covert amphibious landings, parachuting, mountain climbing, among other tactics. By the time the war ended, the Force had suffered 2314 casualties, equating to an astounding 134 percent of its original combat strength. It had captured more than 30,000 prisoners, won five US campaign stars and eight Canadian battle honors. The Force never failed a mission.

The people in this group were not ordinary people, McEtchin told The Paradise Post. “That is the kind of people that they were, they would just succeed at everything they did.”

The unit was instrumental in the liberation of Rome, surprising and defeating massive German artillery units located on treacherous mountain peaks and rocky islands, and in freeing communities in southern France and Italy despite bitter resistance and extreme conditions. The Force also engaged in large-scale raids against the infamous German Hermann Goering First Panzer Paratroop Division. The unit’s unique training assured their unparalleled accomplishments. The group paved the way for the nation’s modern elite Special Forces, of such highly trained units as the Green Berets and the Navy SEALs. About 70 members of The Devil’s Brigade are believed to be still alive.

The Congressional Gold Medal is the nation’s highest award for distinguished achievement. Past recipients have included the Tuskegee Airmen, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, and the Jimmy Doolittle’s Tokyo Raiders. The Canadian government recognized members of the Force in 2012. The presentation ceremony will occur at Expedition Hall in Washington, DC, and will be televised on C-Span and remain available on the C-Span website. Also visit “Suicide Missions: The Black Devils” on YouTube. McEtchin also recalled his World War II experiences in an interview on KHSL’s ActionNewsNow. — Thanks to the Golden Empire Amateur Radio Society (GEARS) Radiator, media accounts







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