James “Stoney” Wines, longtime Helena police officer and one of three surviving Helena veterans of the U.S. Army’s First Special Service Force in World War II, died Wednesday at the Cooney Convalescent Home in Helena. He was 91.
“He gave a lot for the state of Montana and his country in general, and he’s a real hero,” his son Sean said Thursday.
Wines came from Kansas and was among the 2,200 or so men who arrived at Fort Harrison, volunteering for the newly conceived Special Service Force, which trained in new battle methods and fought in extreme conditions in Europe, setting the example for future units like the Green Berets and Navy SEALs. A bill to honor the group with the Congressional Gold Medal is before Congress.
He met his wife of more than 50 years, Dora, while in training at Fort Harrison, and they married before the men set off for war.
The unit suffered a large number of casualties battling the Nazis on mountaintops and flatlands in Italy and France, playing a key role in the liberation of Rome.
People are also reading…
His son Sean Wines, himself a 24-year Navy veteran, said his father generally didn’t speak much of his exploits in the war, until one time when the younger Wines was home on leave from the Navy and Stoney launched into a six-hour discussion of his experiences.
Physical injuries from the war included a couple of bullet wounds — he was grazed in the cheek and took another bullet in the leg, and had half a toe blown off. He took shrapnel, including one piece to the face that left a scar.
“But it was right where his laugh line was so the only way you could see the scar was if you pulled his laugh line apart,” Sean said.
When a documentary crew working on a story about the Special Service Force came to town around 2006, Stoney surprised his family by telling the camera even more, describing the force making night attacks on the Germans and leaving an intimidating calling card, earning themselves the name “the Devil’s Brigade.”
After the war, he worked about two decades as a Helena police officer, ending in 1966 as captain and the head of investigations. He then worked for the state, rising to lead the board of real estate before retiring in 1981.
Stoney’s oldest grandson, Darin Wines, now living in Missoula, got to enjoy hunting and fishing and camping with his father.
“I’m very proud of him. … A lot of them didn’t make it out of that,” Darin said of the Special Service Force’s missions in Europe.
Darin and his wife and siblings purchased a flag of the Special Service Force and gave it to him last June on his 91st birthday. It hung in his room in the Cooney Home until Thursday night.
“He was pretty jacked,” he said.
Stoney’s other children are Jake Wines and Julie Morley, both of Helena.
Of the 3,300 or so men who served in the First Special Service Force, about 220 remain in the United States and Canada. Joe Glass and Mark Radcliffe are the two surviving Helena residents in the group.
Funeral arrangements were not complete Thursday night.
Reporter Sanjay Talwani: 447-4086 or email@example.com