Reporting from Washington — Some years ago, Hollywood made a movie, "The Devil’s Brigade," about a U.S.-Canadian commando force during World War II. Now an effort is underway in Congress to award the Congressional Gold Medal to that elite strike force.
Legislation to award the nation's highest civilian honor to the First Special Service Force has been introduced in the House and Senate by a bipartisan group of lawmakers.
The Canadian Embassy in Washington plans to call attention to the effort next week by screening the documentary "Daring to Die: The Story of the Black Devils" with at least five members of the dwindling force in attendance, along with government and military officials from both countries.
The bill’s sponsors credit the unit, immortalized in the 1968 movie starring William Holden and Cliff Robertson, with paving the way for today's special operations forces.
"With every passing day we lose more of these brave warriors, and it is crucial that we honor them now," Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), whose home state served as a training ground for the force, said in introducing the legislation last year. Only about 230 members of the unit are believed to be living.
John F. Mulholland Jr., commander of the U.S. Army's Special Operations Command, has endorsed the effort to recognize the force, noting in a letter to Baucus that its members "earned a reputation for being able to take impenetrable objectives when no one else could.’’
The force participated in invasions in the Aleutian Islands, at Anzio Beach in Italy, and in southern France. They led the Allied liberation of Rome and wiped out Axis positions on scores of French and Italian mountains.
They specialized in high alpine combat, covert amphibious landings, airborne operations and other unconventional operations, with more reinforcements being added after the force suffered significant casualties in battle. Ultimately, the force suffered 2,314 casualties; however, it also captured over 30,000 prisoners.
Congressional Gold Medal recipients include the Tuskegee Airmen; the Navajo Code Talkers; the Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASPs; and Japanese American members of the 100th Infantry Battalion, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the Military Intelligence Service. Civilian recipients include Rosa Parks and Walt Disney.
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