Earlier this year, Gil called Bob Charest and discussed a concept and idea he had for making of a Detachment “A” plaque. Bob said ‘go for it’. Gil came up with the concept and design, hired a woodcarver to construct the plaque, and funded it. Gil put a lot of thought, time and effort into this plaque.
Gil wanted an ‘eagle’ cane for Detachment ”A”. Eagle Canes are a tradition in many states. Woodcarvers/artists hand craft each custom cane and donate it to the veteran; in support of our veterans. Maine shares in this tradition and Gil hired George and Donna Gunning, of Windsor ME. They carve each eagle cane individually to specifications and donate it to any veteran who has honorably served, no matter how long they served.
Gil wanted the eagle cane to be focal point feature of the plaque.
The woodcarvers did their research about Detachment “A”. They read the articles posted on our web site and as they learned more about Detachment “A” they became very enthusiastic about the unit and the project.
The overall plaque design consisted of: the eagle cane mounted on the plaque, Detachment A” items, US Army items and a large area for Detachment “A” members to sign their name and dates they served in Detachment ”A”.
Gil collected all the items he wanted on the plaque then created a mock-up where each item would appear on the plaque. The entire project took about 4 months. There was a lot of collaboration and iterations – Gil was very particular on what he wanted.
Gil’s Detachment “A” Plaque Description
The actual wooden plaque is 4 feet long and 2 feet high. It weighs 40 pounds. It will be positioned at a 20 degree angle for proper viewing. Gil described each component of the plaque as follows:
The most distinguishing feature of this artifact is the Eagle Cane. The cane has an intricate Bald Eagle’s Head carved and painted into the handle representing the national symbol of freedom and independence. The shaft of the cane consists of the American Flag, the Army Branch of Service emblem, a burned etching of “Detachment ”A” with dates of existence 1956-1984, and the Berlin Occupation Medal.
On the left side there is a burned-in wooden block etched with MG Sidney Shachnow’s name, as he is the best known Commander of Detachment “A”. In the center there is another larger burned-in wooden block containing the Special Forces Crest, SF Shoulder Patch, American and German Wings, and two Detachment “A” coins one coin for the Head and one for the Tails which were Gil’s own coins. The head consisting of a parachute, represents the infiltration into Berlin by Detachment “A” members led by MG Sidney Shachnow(Ret). The tail consisting of a broken wall represents the exfiltration of Detachment “A” out of Berlin as LTC Piasecki(Ret) was the officer in charge of the final 10 days to clear out, sanitize and clean the station. On the right side of plaque there is another burned -in wooden block etched with LTC Eugene Piasecki’s name.
The far right side of the plaque contains the Taps List with those departed members of Detachment “A”. It is positioned under base of the cane. Gil expressed its significance to be that whenever the base of a cane touches the ground it serves as a reminder of our honored comrades and brothers who are no longer with us, and to honor them and never forget them.
The original taps list was sent out for reformatting and printing. It was originally printed on plain white paper. The owner wanted to know about the ‘Taps List’. When Gil explained it to her she ordered it to be re-printed on parchment and refused to accept any payment.
On the back of the plaque Gil wrote: “Donated by Gil Turcotte, SGM(Ret) 2017”.
The rest of the plaque is reserved for Detachment “A” member signatures and certain dignitaries. Each member signs their name along with time served in Detachment “A”.
Detachment “A” Plaque Signing
Gil arrived on Wednesday to the 2017 Detachment “A” function in honor of Jeff Raker with the plaque.
Gil designated that the first signature and the location of the signature at the top of the bald eagle’s head be reserved for Bob Charest. Gil wanted Bob to have this distinction of being the first to sign because he ‘brought Detachment “A” in from the cold” and “made it prominent by bringing long due recognition for the unit”. Bob was honored as the first Detachment “A” member to sign the plaque at the head of the eagle.
Members present on Wednesday also signed the plaque including John Lee, Chris Feudo, Rick Westbrook, Steve Bright, Lee Fondas, and Eugene Piasecki who signed under the block containing his name.
On Thursday after MG Jim Guest’s speech, Gil had CSM Jeff Raker’s son Jeff to sign the plaque on his father’s behalf and in his honor.
Gill then caught up with our distinguished guest speaker MG James Guest’s(Ret) former Commanding General, United States Army Special Forces Command and obtained his signature.
Gil continued collecting signatures from all Detachment “A” members present at our function. He also signed for some members with their permission, who were unable to attend, including Daryl Katz, Peter Gould and Doug Curry.
On Friday, right before our ceremony, Gil got MG Sidney Shachnow(Ret) to sign the plaque under the block containing his name.
Our June 2017 function in honor of Jeff Raker, included the presentation of the plaque. At the conclusion of our ceremony after MG Shachnow’s speech, Bob Charest called on Gil Turcotte who then presented the plaque to MG Sidney Shachnow(Ret) who then donated it to the JFK Museum on behalf of Detachment “A”.
About the Cane Woodcarvers
At the far right bottom corner of the plaque contains the woodcarver’s names George and Donna Gunning, Windsor ME, 2017. They did not want to put their logo because they thought it might detract from the plaque but Gil convinced them to place it on the plaque. They have produced 3,800 canes for Maine veterans at no cost to the veterans. Donations are accepted to keep the tradition going. Gil presented them with an autographed copy of Styk’s book Special Forces Berlin: Clandestine Cold War Operations of the US Army’s Elite, 1956–1990 as a gift, along with a donation for their work.