EDMONTON — A former member of an elite Canada-U.S. army unit has been honoured by the city of Edmonton for his service during the Second World War.
Maurice White was only 17 and living in a small rural community in northern Alberta when he joined the military in 1941.
In December 1943, he fought with the Loyal Edmonton Regiment in the Battle of Ortona — an extremely fierce fight between German paratroops and assaulting Canadian forces and the culmination of combat on the Adriatic front in Italy.
He then volunteered for the Devil’s Brigade, special forces troops who went on raids and fought battles in Italy and France.
White, who is 90 and has emphysema, sat proudly wearing a navy blue blazer covered with campaign ribbons and military awards as city council officially recognized him for his service.
The former lance corporal and his few surviving comrades were awarded a Congressional Gold Medal last month by the U.S. government.
For years, White has volunteered his time to talk with students about what he and his comrades experienced during the war.
“They have to know the suffering that we went through to make a better life that they can live now,” he said Tuesday.
“They have to know what went on. If we don’t talk with the young people, they will never know. It will have no meaning.”
White said he makes a point of ensuring that students understand how war affects civilians, including children, as well as soldiers.
The men he served with are closer than family to him because of the risks and hardships they endured together, he said.
The 1st Special Service Force earned the unofficial name of the “Devil’s Brigade” after some German soldiers started calling its members “black devils” because they often attacked suddenly at night with blackened faces, then quickly disappeared into the darkness.
The unit sought volunteers who had been hunters, lumberjacks, forest rangers or who had other outdoor experience.