By Roberto Hugo Gonzalez
As originally published in Texas Border Business newsprint edition November 2018
A true hero of the Rio Grande Valley is among us. Eugene Gutierrez Jr. enlisted in 1941 right out of Harlingen High School. His family had lost their grocery store due to the great depression and with seven siblings, things were tough. That is why he decided to enlist knowing that the army was paying forty dollars a month. He figured that in three years of service he would be able to send money home and save for two years of college. however, he spent four years as a volunteer with multiple front lines of combat.
He was selected by Lt. Col. Robert Frederick to become a member of an elite special forces group to destroy industrial installations in Norway under Nazi German.
The Nazis had control of the area and were producing heavy-water for their atomic bomb experiments. That is why a unit of 1800 men, half from Canada and half Yanks along with 800 support personnel was created. They had been given a suicide mission to destroy the plant and anything around. Their unit didn’t get to destroy the hydrogen plant, because, in February 1943, a team of trained Norwegian commandos succeeded in destroying the production facility with a second attempt. These actions were followed by bombing raids of the Allied Forces. The Germans retreated and ceased operation and attempted to remove the remaining heavy water when Norwegian resistance forces sank the ferry carrying the water. Gutierrez’ unit was then used in multiple and very successful attacks to deliver freedom to Europe.
Yes, it was an American-Canadian commando unit labeled as The Devil’s Brigade by the Germans. Their training took place in Montana under extreme and frigid temperatures transforming them into the deadliest commando unit in World War II.
History tells of their aggressive tactics and the practice of wearing black boot polish on their faces; the unit excelled during nighttime raids.
When Mr. Gutierrez joined the Army Air Corps, he was specializing in parachute rigging, and that was when he was selected to become part of the First Special Service Force.
Gutierrez said the brigade took over several strongholds in the mountains in Italy and in France. He rescued a buddy of his behind enemy lines. He went to the rescue under heavy fire and even said, ‘we might not make it back.”
Well, he saved the soldier and they made it back alive to tell the story. By the time the war ended, his unit had captured more than 30,000 prisoners, won five U.S. campaign stars and eight Canadian battle honors.
A resolution in his honor by the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court reads: Upon his honorable discharge in 1945 he went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in industrial arts and master’s degree in Education from Oklahoma State University.
He began his 30-year tenure with the McAllen Independent School District in 1950, teaching at Sam Houston Elementary. In 1953, he became the first Hispanic Principal in the McAllen ISD, serving at Navarro Elementary School for 17 years, then at Lincoln Middle School until his retirement in 1980. He and his wife of 66 years, Penny, have three children: Thomas, Margaret, and Elizabeth.
Read resolution here.