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Devil's Brigade Canadian members get Congressional Gold Medal

Forty-two surviving members of a joint American-Canadian Special Forces military unit called The Devil’s Brigade were honoured with the Congressional Gold Medal on Tuesday — the highest civilian honour the United States Congress can bestow.

14 surviving Canadians get highest civilian honour awarded in U.S. at Washington ceremony

Devil's Brigade honoured

8 years ago
Duration 3:12
Canadian veterans part of elite unit given Congressional Gold Medal

Forty-two surviving members of a joint American-Canadian special forces military unit called the Devil's Brigade were honoured with the Congressional Gold Medal on Tuesday — the highest civilian honour the United States Congress can bestow.

The brigade was an elite special service force during the Second World War, and is so revered that it served as the model for the U.S. Navy SEALS. It also inspired a film in the late 1960s.

The award ceremony took place at Emancipation Hall on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., and was attended by dignitaries from Canada, the U.S. and the military. 

Charles Mann, a Devil's Brigade member from Kincardine, Ont., said he was "most honoured and humbled," to receive the award.

"I thank you all, and to those force members who are no longer with us, may they rest in peace," Mann said as he addressed the crowd.

Erin O'Toole, Canada's newly appointed minister of veterans affairs, said the medal was "extraordinary recognition for extraordinary efforts."

The men of the Devil’s Brigade join the likes of George Washington, Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela, who have all been given the honour.

The Canadians who attended Tuesday's ceremony included:

  • John Callowhill, Stoney Creek, Ont.
  • James Summersides, Welland, Ont.
  • Vernon Doucette, Lower Wedgeport, N.S.
  • Herb Peppard, Truro, N.S.
  • Arthur Pottle, Saint John, N.B.
  • Wilfred Paquette, Gatineau, Que.
  • George Wright, Picton, Ont.
  • Donald Ballantyne Cobourg, Ont.
  • Morris Lazarus, Toronto, Ont.
  • H.R. Hawkyard, Toronto, Ont.
  • Charles Mann, Kincardine, Ont.
  • Ralph Mayville, Windsor, Ont.
  • Leonard Corbett, Calgary, Alberta.
  • Maurice White, Edmonton, Alberta.
  • Del Stonehouse, now resides in Arizona.
  • Gordon Simms, now resides in South Carolina.
  • William Story, now resides in South Carolina.
  • Stanley McEtchin, now resides in California.

The men in the 1st Special Service Force were particularly close, said Canadian Maurice White, who joined the military back in 1941.

"The officers would help make your breakfast, do guard duty. So, us knowing them in that manner, if they asked us to go to hell, we would go with them," he said. "We had that much faith in one another."

The Devil’s Brigade marked the first time Canada and the U.S. combined forces in a single unit.

The group was trained in hand-to-hand combat, to climb mountains and parachute down on targets, and to become demolition experts.

The special service force was also given another name by the Germans: the black devils.

The Devil's Brigade served as the prototype for the special forces that would come later: outfits like the JTF-2, Navy Seals and Green Berets. (CBC)
That name stemmed from a 37-day operation in Anzio, Italy, when the brigade would blacken their faces with boot polish, and sneak behind enemy lines under cover of darkness to eliminate targets. They also left a note written in German on each soldier they killed, which roughly translated to "the worst is yet to come."

The current average age of members of the unit is 92, so many of the former soldiers have died.

Al Wilson of Flamborough, Ont., was the latest. He planned to attend the ceremony Tuesday, but died the day before after a bout with pneumonia.

His daughter, Debra, told CBC News her father always felt strange about being applauded for what he did in the war.

"He never wanted to glorify anything to do with the war," she said. "He just didn't think that was right. There were other people who died, and that took its toll on him. He was proud of who he was, but in a quiet, kind of humble way."

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