Canadian veteran of famed Devil’s Brigade dies within hours of American comrade

Joe Glass sits in the kitchen of his Helena, Montana home, on Thursday October 26, 2006.A Canadian member of the legendary Devil's Brigade has died within hours of an American comrade in Helena, Mont., where they both lived.

Ottawa-born Joe Glass, 92 and Mark Radcliffe, 94, originally from Farmington, New Mexico, lived not far from the Montana military base where the Canadian-American commando unit trained in the Second World War.

According to the Tribune of Great Falls, Mont., Glass's death was announced by the Washington office of Sen. Max Baucus.

"Montana and our nation have lost a true hero," Baucus said in a statement Monday. "In a group of hard and brave war heroes, Joe was among the toughest. He endured significant injuries in World War II for our freedom and my thoughts and prayers are with the Glass family at this time."

Baucus is behind an effort to bestow the Congressional Gold Medal on the unit, known officially as the First Special Service Force.

About 3,300 Canadian and American soldiers served in the unit between 1942 and December 1944, when it was disbanded. It took on tough missions, especially in the Italian campaign where it covered itself in glory by scaling the cliffs of Mount la Difensa at night to take the hitherto impregnable German stronghold.

"We were the first guys on that mountain," Glass, among 220 surviving Devil's Brigade veterans, said in a profile for the Tribune recently. "We took that mountain in two hours of fighting. The whole army couldn't take it in weeks. I was so proud of them guys."

Though it saw less than a year of combat, the unit suffered 2,314 deaths, captured 27,000 prisoners and earned more than a dozen Canadian and American unit battle honours.

Glass, who joined the Canadian Army in 1940, was wounded twice, including a serious injury from a mortar shell on Anzio beach, according to the British Daily Mail.

After the war, he returned to Ottawa but then went back to Helena, married and raised four children. He worked at many things, from driving truck and selling insurance to operating a stock-car race track and operating a fish-and-chip shop.

The Devil's Brigade earned its name from an entry in a German officer's journal found by Allied soldiers. It was based on the unit's practice of blacking out their faces to infiltrate German lines to kill or capture enemy soldiers.

"The Black Devils are all around us every time we come into the line," the German officer wrote. "We never hear them come."

The 1968 movie The Devil's Brigade, staring Cliff Robertson and William Holden, immortalized the unit's exploits and director Quentin Tarantino said their legend influenced his 2009 film Inglorious Basterds.

(CP Photo)