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.