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The late Eugene “Peltchie” Pelletier (1917-1992) was born and raised in Walford, Ontario, and enlisted in the Canadian Infantry Corps in September 1941.

After the breakout of World War II, Pelletier volunteered for Project Plough’s First Special Service Force, and arrived in Helena in August 1942. Under the command of Lt. Col. Robert Frederick, the FSSF was a prototype fighting unit of 2,300 American and Canadian soldiers, who underwent nine months of intensive specialized combat training at Fort Harrison. The group was a precursors to the Green Berets.

After their first mission just missed the evacuation of the Japanese in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, the FSSF deployed to southern Italy, via North Africa. They arrived in Naples in November 1943, their first task being the taking of a German stronghold on Mount LaDifensa.

The FSSF’s 2nd Regiment went up the backside of the mountain, scaling a 900-foot cliff in the middle of the frozen night, their faces blackened, pulling and clawing their way to the top. The GIs reached the summit by dawn, and in less than three hours of furious firefighting they secured a victory that Allied generals had predicted would take four to five days.

A Nazi officer’s diary read, “Every time we came into the line, the black devils with their baggy pants are all around us. And we never heard them coming.”

Pelletier — a 5-foot-6, 145-pound “stick of dynamite” according to the late Mark Radcliffe — was eager to get in the fray. He didn’t have long to wait, as his 3rd Regiment soon received orders to assault Mount Majo.

FSSF history relates that “The 3rd Regiment succeeded in taking Mt. Majo and routing the Germans on Jan. 6, 1944 … even though they were outnumbered two-to-one, the Forcemen still overran the Nazis in several hours.”

Radcliffe, who was in command of 3rd Company, told this reporter in 1999, “We had captured a lot of their weapons and ammunition, and after we ran out of our own ammo, we repulsed 14 German counterattacks — mostly with their own Schmeissers.”

Sgt. Thomas and Sgt. Pelletier were in the same section of 12 men. During the ascent to the top, their section took out three separate machine gunners.

“The very last one near the crest, Gene and Sgt. W.G. Barnhill worked around to the left, climbed up above the gun nest and knocked them out with grenades,” Thomas recounted. “We had lost eight of our 12 guys.”

Peltchie distinguished himself by finishing off the machine gunner after taking several rounds in the shoulder. Captain Radcliffe said he later recommended Pelletier for the Silver Star.

A few of the FSSF’s next major campaigns included Anzio, Rome, southern France (Alpes-Maritimes), and the Franco-Italian border. The unit was relieved of its positions on Nov. 26, 1944, after completing an undefeated record of 46 missions without a loss. It has been estimated that the “Devil’s Brigade” captured over 27,000 prisoners and killed some 12,000 enemy soldiers.

After the unit's breakup, Pelletier remained in France, instructing hand-to-hand combat until his discharge in August 1945. He returned to Helena, was granted U.S. citizenship in 1949 and served with the Montana National Guard from 1949-52.

Pelletier and wife Loraine (Lager) raised seven children in the Capital City, where he was employed for the Northern Pacific Railroad for 10 years, before his life’s work as a carpenter. In 1988, with the help of fellow FSSF and good friend Roy Hudson, he finally received his well-deserved medical benefits.

“I always admired Peltchie,” Radcliffe said in 1999. “He did anything and everything that was required of him, above and beyond the call of duty.”

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Curt Synness, a Navy veteran, can be reached at 594-2878 or by email curt52synness@gmail.com. He’s also on Twitter @curtsynness_IR.

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