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Helena immigration services office dedicated to 'Devil's Brigade' veteran

Independent Record - 10/17/2018

Oct. 16--U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services dedicated its Helena field office Monday to the memory of longtime city resident Lt. Col. M. Herbert Goodwin, a Canadian immigrant who served in combat in World War II.

Goodwin was born in southern Ontario and served in the Canadian Army prior to volunteering for an American-Canadian unit that trained at Fort William Henry Harrison in 1942. That unit, the First Special Service Force, deactivated in December 1944 but is still considered a predecessor to the modern Special Forces branch of the U.S. Army. Both houses of Congress voted unanimously to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the FSSF in 2013.

The USCIS'sHelena field office serves the entire state of Montana. USCIS public affairs officer Debbie Cannon said the Helena field office served 1,200 people in fiscal 2018 and confirmed citizenship for 399, about 50 more than in fiscal 2017. Cannon said the current office building opened last January to combine USCIS services under one roof, including biometric and application services and citizenship interviews.

The current facility on River Rock Drive, now dedicated in Goodwin's name, replaced an office on Skyway Drive near Helena Regional Airport.

Goodwin became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1948 and opened a grocery store, Herb's Quick Service, near Helena Junior High School in 1965. He died at age 87 in 2007, the same year the United States awarded him the Bronze Star, and is buried in the Montana State Veterans Cemetery at Fort Harrison with his wife Dorris.

Friends and family of Goodwin spoke fondly Monday morning of the storied military service in southern Europe that earned him and his fellow soldiers the Congressional Gold Medal. Bill Woon of Montana Military Museum said only 2,200 of the 16,000 American and Canadian soldiers who applied for the FSSF completed training at Fort Harrison.

The unit's service in Anzio, Italy, made them notorious among German soldiers, who took to calling the FSSF "the Black Devils." Goodwin and the FSSF fought in the liberations of Rome and southern France from Axis forces in mid-1944.

Woon said the FSSF incurred 2,314 casualties in 251 days of combat but took over 30,000 prisoners while never losing a battle or failing to complete a mission.

Goodwin's great-nephew Eric Morgensen, who considered Goodwin his grandfather, became choked up over memories of receiving candy at Herb's Quick Service and introducing Goodwin to Spencer, his great-grandson, for the first time. Morgensen designed a poster chronicling Goodwin's life before, during and after World War II for the Helena field office and unveiled it with guest speaker L. Francis Cissna, director of the USCIS.

"He's in my soul," Morgensen said. "I'm grateful to have this opportunity."

Cissna gave the keynote speech, in which he joked that the quick service of Goodwin's namesake grocery store would hopefully rub off on USCIS employees upon the building's dedication. He also recalled a speech made by a U.S. Marine prior to the dedication of a ship in the name of a fallen immigrant sailor.

"The Marine that was speaking said the ship, before it was dedicated, was just a big hunk of metal. It was just a thing," Cissna said. "But once you dedicate it to the name of a person, then the spirit of that person infuses the steel of the ship."

Helena police officers served as color guard for a performance of the national anthem by the Helena High School choir. Family displayed several of Goodwin's wartime belongings at the event, including his helmet, backpacks, trunks, wartime tins of coffee and adhesive plaster, binoculars, knives, dress uniform and a 1943 military publication titled "Tactics of the Germany Army and How to Defeat Them." A photo of the FSSF's farewell march through downtown Helena in April 1943 leaned against the display.

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