WWII legend Eschenburg dies
By CAROLYNN BRIGHT - Ind Rec Staff Writer
One of the few remaining members of the First Special Service Force, or the Devil's Brigade, died Friday at the age of 88.
"He never stopped being a soldier," said Montana Military Museum Director Ray Read, of retired Brigadier General Emil Eschenburg after hearing the news of his friend's death.
That's only to be expected considering the duration and distinction of his military career.
The Michigan farm boy attended Michigan State University, graduated with honors and promptly began his military service as a second lieutenant. Upon the formation of the Devil's Brigade — a joint U.S./Canadian fighting unit — in July 1942, Eschenburg went to fight under the command of West Point graduate Lt. Col Robert Frederick.
The group was trained to infiltrate Nazi-held Norway and take out hydroelectric plants, but wound up fighting in Kiska in the Aleutian Islands in August 1943 and in Italy in December of that year.
The unit became legendary at Anzio, Italy, in 1944, where the Germans dubbed the force "The Black Devils" due to the force's ability to wage war under cover of night.
It was during his service in the Devil's Brigade that Eschenburg rose to the rank of brigadier general.
There are now six members of the Devil's Brigade living in the Helena area, a member of the First Special Service Force Association and Eschenburg friend Herb Goodwin said Friday. Three are originally from the U.S., and three were native Canadians. The local chapter of the association still meets once a month and recently held its 58th reunion.
In addition to his time with the Devil's Brigade, Eschenburg was assistant commander of the 101st Airborne Division in the early days of Vietnam and later a commanding general.
During his decades of U.S. Army infantry service, Eschenburg received 115 decorations, including the Purple Heart. He retired in 1970.
Among 77 citations for valor are four distinguished flying crosses and four silver stars.
Read emphasized that Eschenburg remained extremely active in the military community following his retirement.
He said Eschenburg was a fixture at military gatherings, was active in the establishment of the Montana Military Museum and, most recently, was instrumental in the development of the Purple Heart monument dedicated this fall at Fort Harrison.
In addition to his military affiliations, Eschenburg worked for several years as a Helena Realtor, belonged to the local and state chambers of commerce and served as a trustee for the Helena YMCA.
Read said Eschenburg was tireless in his pursuits, and it was only his recent illness that slowed him down.
"As soon as he would be well enough, he would be up and going again," Read said, adding that Eschenburg's friends hoped that would be the case this last time that he took ill.
Services for Eschenburg will be held at 11 a.m. Monday, Nov. 29 at the First Lutheran Church, 2231 E. Broadway. Military graveside honors will be conducted from the Montana Army National Guard with interment at the Montana State Veterans Cemetery at Fort Harrison.
Hagler-Anderson Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.