Saint John veteran to receive Congressional Gold Medal

A Second World War veteran from Saint John is receiving one of the highest American military honours bestowed on a non-U.S. citizen.

One of America's highest honours will be awarded to Canadian members of Devil's Brigade

A Second World War veteran from Saint John is receiving one of the highest American military honours bestowed on a non-U.S. citizen.

Arthur Pottle, 92, was a sergeant in the First Special Service Force, an elite American and Canadian commando unit that fought in Europe during the Second World War and became known as the Devil's Brigade.

Earlier this month, Pottle learned that the living Canadian members of the brigade are getting the United States Congressional Gold Medal for their service.

Arthur Pottle, 92, was a sergeant in an elite American and Canadian commando unit that fought in Europe known as the Devil's Brigade. (CBC)

U.S. President Barack Obama signed the bill on Friday, and a design is being drawn up.

"It's nice to know the unit hasn't been forgotten," said Pottle.

The Devil's Brigade earned its nickname in the mountains of Italy, in the Liri Valley during the war. The name came from German soldiers who fought against the unit in the battle for Monte La Difensa in 1943.

"[We] climbed up a section that the Germans thought no one could get up and surprised them," Pottle said of the famous capture that was later dramatized in the 1968 war film, The Devil's Brigade.

"It was raining and pretty muddy. The old movie … that was all sunshine … I don't think the actors wanted to get wet or walk in mud.

"At first we had gas masks. That was the first thing you'd drop … And we had [protective] gas sheets you'd put over yourself to keep the rain out. They were useful for that, not for gas."

Later the special forces unit would be among some of the first Allies to reach Rome, liberating the city from the Germans. The Devil's Brigade also made headway in southern France.

Pottle initially planned to join an anti-tank regiment when he enlisted in the army in July 1940.

"My father, who had been in World War I in the infantry said, 'Don't get in the infantry, you have to march too much,'" he said.

Pottle is pictured with a mule used to transport ammunition and food in southern France in 1944. (The Memory Project)

"So he said, 'Get into the artillery, they ride.'"

The contingent was full, however, and Pottle ended up in Dartmouth, N.S., before signing up for the Special Service Force that included volunteers from other Allied countries.

"We had to work like sons of guns in order to try to catch up to their training," said Pottle. "They worked us from early morning to 9 o'clock at night, six days a week."

Soldiers underwent intensive hand-to-hand combat, parachuting and mountain warfare training that would later come to define the unit.

Pottle said he hopes to receive his Congressional Gold Medal in September, when he plans to attend the Devil's Brigade's 67th anniversary reunion in Windsor, Ont.