Richard Hilton joined the likes of George Washington and Winston Churchill when he received the Congressional Gold Medal in a ceremony Sunday at the Comox Valley Seniors Village.
The Congressional Gold Medal is the U.S. Congress’ highest civilian honour. Hilton received the award for his Second World War service with the joint Canadian-American strike force, the First Special Service Force, known as the Devil’s Brigade.
At 99, Hilton is the oldest survivor of the 1,800-member formation that parachuted behind enemy lines, stormed beaches and fought in hand-to-hand combat.
Most of the surviving Devil’s Brigade received their Congressional Gold Medals in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 3, but Hilton was unable to attend the ceremony.
So on March 8 the “ceremony” came to him, at the seniors’ centre where he lives.
With numerous dignitaries in attendance, Hilton was presented the medal by Gen. Brian Vernon and James “Stocky” Edwards.
Hilton was born Feb. 1, 1916 and joined the military at age 26. He was in the 2nd Battalion, Royal Rifles of Canada stationed at a garrison force on Vancouver Island. Five weeks into his eight-week basic training, Hilton was given the opportunity to join the First Special Service Force, where vigorous physical training prepared the 900 Canadians and 900 Americans for risky missions on land and sea and in the air. Their heroic assaults against German and Italian targets were commemorated in the 1968 film The Devil’s Brigade.
Hilton left the military in April 1946.
His sense of humour and humility were very much evident at Sunday’s Congressional Gold Medal presentation.
When reminded the medal was gold, Hilton sent a ripple of laughter through those in attendance when he quipped, “I bet it is.”
The medal is awarded to persons “who have performed an achievement that has an impact on American history and culture that is likely to be recognized as a major achievement in the recipient’s field long after the achievement.”