The 40 surviving members of the First Special Service Force (FSSF) gathered in Congress this week to receive one of the highest honors the United States can bestow – the Congressional Gold Medal.

An emotional House Speaker John Boehner showered praise on the assembled Special Forces pioneers: “These men saved the free world. Now they are free to savour the triumph and to share their stories for years to come.”

Special Operations units in both Canada and the United States trace their lineage to the FSSF, better known as the “Devil’s Brigade.” The 1,800 man unit was made up of Canadian and American paratroopers and trained in Fort William Henry Harrison near Helena, Montana.

When the Special Forces Tab was created in 1983, it was retroactively awarded to members of the unit that had spent at least 120 days in wartime service.

The Devil’s Brigade conducted a number of audacious raids behind enemy lines during the Italian campaign. They also used psychological warfare on their German adversaries. When conducting a raid, the Devils would leave cards on dead enemy soldiers with the unit’s insignia and the German phrase “Das dicke ende kommt noch,” which translates to “The worst is yet to come.”

For more about the Devil’s Brigade, check out John Nadler’s book “A Perfect Hell: The True Story of the Black Devils, the Forefathers of the Special Forces,” and if you haven’t already seen it, you can check out the 1968 movie classic “The Devil’s Brigade.”

(Featured Image Courtesy: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)