Known by many for his service with the Pineville Post Office, Earl Hurst’s blood runs deep within the ranks of the U.S. Army.
Hurst, who was a member of the “Devils Brigade,” worked alongside the Ethiopian Army and the Canadian army while enlisted in the army.
He was awarded a medal for his work alongside the Ethiopians and was awarded the Canadian Parachute Wings with Silver Maple leaf.
Hurst’s journey with the Army started in 1942. He was only 17 years old, but lied about his age to enlist. He was sent to Texas for basic training with the 84th Division. After basic training, Hurst volunteered for the paratroopers and ended up with the First Special Service Force.
A commando unit ahead of its time, the troop from the force consist of half Canadian troops and half U.S. troops. The commando unit took parachute training, mountain climbing training, ski training and martial art training from Chinese instructors.
Hurst stated the first mission for his troop was to take the Island of Kiska, which is located in the Aleutian Islands and was supposed to be occupied by the Japanese. When the troop arrived, the Japanese Army had left.
One of the big battles that Hurst and his fellow troops were known for was the battle for Monte la Difensa in Italy. The First Special Service Force scaled a 3,000 foot cliff in an attempt to take the mountain.
Hurst said 81 men were lost during the battle, but the mountain was eventually captured by the troop. This was the battle, which earned them the nickname “Devils Brigade,” according to Hurst.
His troop engaged in several more battles in Italy. In one of those battles, Hurst was shot and wounded. He was eventually sent to a general hospital. After his recovery, Hurst was sent back to his unit.
Once back in his unit, Hurst was involved with the invasion of Anzio, Italy. There were 156 men lost during the invasion. After three months, the troop pulled out of Anzio and headed for Rome.
Once in Rome, the units next mission was the invasion of southern France. Hurst said the troop fought its way through southern France, almost to the Italian border. The unit was fired upon for three days once they made their way through southern France.
A patrol unit was formed, which Hurst was a member of, to go find the opposition that was attacking them and destroy the unit. The patrol group found the unit. Hurst said they accomplished their mission, but was ultimately captured by the Germans.
Hurst said the patrol group was taken across northern Italy to Milan. They placed several members of the troop in a small room in the railroad section of Milan. Hurst said they were in the basement for about 15 days and fed bread and water twice a day.
Hurst said they were then transported by boxcar to Austria and then to Germany to a prison camp 20 miles west of Munich, Germany. Hurst said they were issued a cup, bowl and spoon. The food consisted of a cup of coffee for breakfast, bowl of soup for lunch and two small potatoes with the hull on them for supper.
Hurst said he was taken to Munich twice a week to work with 10 other prisoners on the railroad. Hurst and his fellow men were prisoners for nine months before being liberated by Gen. George Patton.
After re-enlisting in the Army, Hurst went back to Germany for two years and then came back to the U.S. and married Goldie Lowe.
Hurst continued his service for many years, including working alongside the Ethiopian Army. He was eventually promoted to master sergeant and assigned to the 2nd Division non commissioned officers academy, where he taught map reading for about three years.
Hurst retired before he got a chance to fight in the Vietnam War. After retiring, Hurst worked for Delaware Powder Company for two years. Following that job, Hurst began working at the Pineville Post Office, where he worked for 21 years.
Anthony Cloud is a staff writer for the Middlesboro Daily News. He can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 606-248-1010, ext. 208.