AIKEN During World War II, Pfc. James R. “Boots” Beatty of Barney, Ga., served in the 1st Special Service Force, also called The Devil's Brigade, an elite American-Canadian commando unit.
The 1,800 “Force Men,” as they were the called, were the first commando unit, trained in special tactics from mountaineering to skiing to amphibious operations. They were the predecessors of today’s Army Rangers, Green Berets and Navy Seals.
They fought the Japanese in the Aleutian Islands, then the Germans in Italy and southern France, conducting night raids behind enemy lines, killing as many enemy soldiers as possible and capturing the rest. In Italy they would leave cards on the bodies of dead German soldiers with the ominous warning: “Das Dike Ende Kommt Noch!” which translates as “The Worst Is Yet To Come.”
“The Germans were terrified of them,” said Jim Hamilton, former director of Jim Hamilton-L.B. Owens Airport in Columbia, and Beatty’s son-in-law.
On Saturday, a special surprise presentation was made to Beatty, 96, courtesy of the United States Army. Beatty was presented with his Bronze Star medal, 73 years after it was awarded.
The citation reads: “for meritorious achievement in ground combat operations against an armed enemy.”
It doesn’t recount the action for which it was awarded, because like most special forces operations today, the Devil’s Brigade’s operations were classified.
So secretive was Beatty about his service that his family didn’t know what “Paw Paw Boots” did in the war until two years ago, when he let it slip while under medication from a surgical procedure.
“He was told not to talk about it so he didn’t,” Beatty’s son, David, said.
David Beatty, a World War II buff, was stunned.
“He’s so quiet and nice and humble, you would never know it,” he said.
Like many soldiers after World War II, Beatty just never picked up the medal, Hamilton said.
“They wanted to get as far from those horrible events as they could,” he said.
Hamilton found out about Beatty’s Bronze Star Order on the internet while researching his father-in-law after the family learned of his service. He contacted Bill Dukes, a retired Columbia restaurateur who serves as the Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army, and the medal was finally issued.
It was presented to Beatty on Saturday at his home by U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-Springdale. State Rep. Bill Taylor, R-Aiken, presented a plaque of recognition from the South Carolina General Assembly.
But there’s a twist.
Beatty, who eventually worked at the Savannah River site and retired in Aiken, didn’t have any of his medals. They were lost in the 1950s in one of Beatty’s many moves.
So on Saturday, family members, including his son and two daughters, Heather Bailey of Irmo and Pat Hamilton of Columbia, presented him with seven other decorations and recognitions, from a World War II Veteran license plate to his combat infantryman’s badge.
It brought Beatty to tears.
“Unbelievable,” he said. “I appreciate it so much.”