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'First into the fray': Legion to dedicates room to First Special Service Force

More than 70 years after the end of World War II, Hastings is still learning more about five of its soldiers.

The American Legion Post 47 will open its new "Hastings Five Gold Room" on Saturday. The room memorializes five deceased local veterans who served in the First Special Service Force — an elite commando unit of 1,800 men from the United States and Canada who specialized in fighting under hazardous conditions during WWII. The unit, also known as the "Devil's Brigade," is credited with liberating several areas, including southern France and Rome and Monte La Difensa in Italy.

"It's a story we felt should have been told probably a long time ago," said Legion member and past Cmdr. Ed Riveness. "We had a meeting and decided that it's time that something was done to recognize these fellows. "

The five veterans from Hastings are Lt. J.D. Moore, who was killed in action, Pfc. Francis Brooke, Pfc. D.W. Hamilton, Staff Sgt. John Hankes and Pvt. G. L. Hild.

"(The soldiers leave) home at 19 years old and all of a sudden be thrown into the middle of the important stuff," said Hankes' nephew Jim Johnson. "They were the forerunners of all these commando-type outfits. They were always thrown into the fray first. "

The event will feature memorabilia from Camp Ripley and the five, including honors such as the Congressional Gold Medal Award and an award from Norway, uniforms, pictures, hand-drawn maps, documents and tools, such as the unit's famed V-42 combat knife. The room will continue to display some of these awards and items.

The event will include a rifle salute in front of the Legion clubrooms.

"People downtown don't need to get panicky because they will shoot off a volley down at the flag," Riveness said.

The soldiers' combat skills included paratrooping, fighting at night and during the winter, scaling mountains and engaging in hand-to-hand combat.

"They got so they could fight anywhere at any time," Riveness said.

Riveness said about 5,600 people lived in Hastings at the time the FSSF was formed.

"So these guys were all picked and it's just amazing that five of them were from Hastings," he said.

Johnson said that when his uncle John Hankes was alive, he rarely spoke about his time serving in World War II. As he got older and more awards started to flow in, he always prioritized including in local news coverage his fellow Hastings veterans, who had already died.

"He always wanted to make sure it wasn't about him. That it was about the force in general and all his buddies with the Hastings Five and not just him,"" Johnson said.

Johnson said the event pays tribute to veterans who were known for their humility.

"Most of those people from this era, they're very unassuming," he said. "I'm sure if they were here, they'd be very grateful that it's going to happen."

If you go ...

Who: Hasting Five

What: dedication

Where: American Legion Post 47, 50 Sibley St.

When: 12 p.m. social hour and 1 p.m. dedication Saturday, June 9

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