Montana WWII unit to receive congressional honor

Great Falls Tribune

A military unit that suffered heavy losses during World War II was based out of Montana and is receiving high honors from Congress.

Montana Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester sponsored a bill to create a Congressional Gold Medal for the Devil’s Brigade, a top-secret joint U.S.-Canadian force formed during WWII that was a precursor to today’s Special Forces units.

The bill cleared final passage in the Senate last week. Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida carried companion legislation in the House of Representatives. Congressional Gold Medal legislation requires 67 co-sponsors in the Senate and 290 in the House before it can be considered for final passage.

Once the president signs the bill, the Congressional Medal will be minted and delivered to Fort Harrison in Baucus’ hometown of Helena, where the Devil’s Brigade was based. Commemorative duplicates will also be made and available for purchase.

“I can’t think of anyone more deserving of Congress’ highest honor than the Devil’s Brigade. They were volunteers, lumberjacks and mountaineers who answered the call to serve and mastered unconventional tactics to do the impossible and help secure victory in World War II,” Baucus said.

The Devil’s Brigade was a top-secret combat unit made up of 1,800 volunteers from 49 states, the District of Columbia and Canada, including 84 Montanans.

Their training was the first of its kind and specialized in high alpine combat, covert amphibious landings, parachuting and other non-conventional tactics.

At the war’s end, the Devil’s Brigade had suffered 2,314 casualties, equating to 134 percent of its original combat strength. It had captured more than 30,000 prisoners, won five U.S. campaign stars and eight Canadian battle honors. The Devil’s Brigade never failed a mission.

The Devil’s Brigade 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 Devil’s Brigade also engaged in large-scale raids against the infamous German Hermann Goering First Panzer Paratroop Division.

“The Devil’s Brigade went above and beyond the call of duty to defeat tyranny in World War II and proved that America’s service members are the best in the world,” said Tester, Montana’s only member of the Senate Veterans’ Affair Committee. “This Congressional Gold Medal honors their service and heroism and will remind future generations of the tremendous sacrifices made by America’s Greatest Generation.”