SAINT JOHN – Several Maritime veterans of the Second World War recently received one of the highest civilian awards in the United States.
Members of the world’s first special forces battalion, called the Devil’s Brigade, were awarded the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal of Honour last week in Washington.
The honour carries a lot of weight for 94-year-old Art Pottle of Saint John.
“I am proud to have been part of it,” he said.
After waiting 70 years, Pottle and 46 other Second World War veterans were handed the medal in Washington last week for serving in the world’s first special forces unit.
The Devil’s Brigade was a blend of about 1,800 highly trained Canadian and American soldiers. Many were lumberjacks and miners – already tough outdoorsmen – brought together at a secret training base.
“They trained us from eight o’clock in the morning until eight o’clock at night,” he said. “We had to learn arms and we had to learn how to parachute.”
They even learned mountain climbing and skiing and it’s been said the elite soldiers took on missions no one else could handle, or wanted to.
When asked what his most vivid memory of being in the brigade, Pottle said: “That I survived.”
Pottle said casualties were high.
But for every man they lost, it’s said the Devil’s Brigade killed at least 20 more and became known as the notorious “black devil’s.”
“If you went out on patrol at night you had to darken your face,” he said.
The battalion moved in quickly at night killing German soldiers and leaving behind a calling card on the bodies of their enemy.
“They left signs the worse was yet to come in Germany,” he said.
Tom LeBlanc’s father Medric LeBlanc served as a communication specialist with the brigade.
“It’s very rare that a congressional gold medal is awarded to such a unit, especially Canadians,” he said. “I think it is a great thing that they got it, they lost a lot of men they fought a lot of battles.”
LeBlanc’s father passed away long before getting a chance to hold his own medal of honour.
Now Pottle and a number of other Maritime veterans have been honoured as Devil’s Brigade heroes.
“Well I don’t know if we were brave or not but you did what the others were doing and that was your job,” he said.