90-year-old Paradise Vet heading to DC Feb 3rd for Congressional Gold Medal

Jan 23, 2015 7:26 PM by Brian Johnson

In a week, a Paradise World War II veteran will fly to Washington, D.C. with other surviving members of the First Special Service Force to be honored with the Congressional Gold Medal.

"Most times he just would really rather not go but he goes because I don't give him any choice, said Eileen Robbins-McEtchin.

Stan McEtchin and a select group of other veterans will be presented with the Congressional Gold Medal on February 3rd.

"I feel that I do not deserve it," said McEtchin. "I didn't do anything that was that outstanding. A lot of our guys did, and I didn't. I was Mr. Chicken."

McEtchin was still a baby-faced Canadian teen when he joined the famous and fearless, Canadian and American First Special Service Force.

He's now 90 years old.

"Yes, 90, yes," McEtchin said. "I'm beginning to feel it."
He volunteered for the adventure, but after the elite group of nearly 2,000 men suffered heavy casualties fighting the Germans on Monte la Difensa in Italy, he learned that it would be more than just mountain climbing and skiing, skills required of anyone who volunteered for the outfit.

A man who issued his uniform told McEtchin he had signed up for a suicide mission.

They fought endlessly at Italy's Anzio Beachhead, and eventually liberated Rome.

McEtchin says he fought alongside moonshiners from Tennessee, and Minnesota boys who spoke fluent German.

He says they were gung-ho, daring fighters, but being a bunch of troublemakers, they constantly disobeyed orders.

"They thought we were cowboys," McEtchin said.

They also became known as the Black Devils, for their sneak attacks on Germans in the middle of the night, stealing their things and leaving stickers that said "The worst is yet to come," while they slept.

"They were scared to death of us," McEtchin said. "Just scared to death of us."

McEtchin remembers guys named ‘Cigar,' ‘Chief,' and ‘Sly.'

But McEtchin, a medic, was called ‘Doc.'

He says he saw 10 of his friends die.

"He feels very, very guilty about the fact he survived and none of his buddies did. And that's because Stan was the little guy," Eileen Robbins-McEtchin said. "His nickname was shaver because he was just a little shaver. And they all protected him. They killed them but he survived and that's always been real hard on him."

She jokes that she's pulled her husband, who's had three open heart surgeries and outlived his cardiologist, back from the grave a few times.

But as long as he's still alive, she'll keep bringing him to Devil's Brigade reunions.

"I did whatever I was asked to do," McEtchin said. "I didn't do anything outstanding but I did whatever I was asked to do."

These days, McEtchin prefers this shop, where he channels his inner-welder by building sculptures from scrap metal.

It's a craft he honed as a teen in Vancouver.

"I don't know what they'll do with it but people get so much fun out of it," he said.

McEtchin, who welds every day, still has the creative energy of a teenager, and the mind of one too. "All the things that happened in Italy [and] France and all these other places, I remember them," McEtchin said.

"I'm still here, but you know I'm very lucky compared to other people," he said.

To learn more about the First Special Service Force, click here.

Click here to watch the Congressional Gold Medal ceremony on February 3rd, which begins at 3pm.


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