10th Mountain honors its fallen | VailDaily.com

10th Mountain honors its fallen

Cliff Thompson
NWS Memorial1 5-31 CS Vail Daily/Coreen Sapp Ret. Col. Earl Clark, Chairman of the Board of the 10th Mountain Division Foundation, salutes after laying a wreath on the memorial, which honors 990 members of the division who fell during World War II.

When Col. Arthur Bartell addressed the crowd attending the 10th Mountain Division Memorial Day celebration atop Tennessee Pass Monday, he didn’t see any old veterans.Instead, he saw men who had changed the course of world history 60 years ago.”Seated before me I see men that these mountains could not conquer, nor the armies of Hitler,” he said. “These were ordinary people living ordinary lives who were asked to sacrifice under extraordinary circumstances.”This, the 46th Memorial Day celebrating the 10th Mountain Division, which trained at nearby Camp Hale before fighting in Italy’s Apennine Mountains, memorialized the dead from past and current conflicts. It honored the 990 men of the 10th Mountain Division who lost their lives in World War II, as well as the 22 members of the present-day 10th who have lost their lives since the beginning of hostilities in Afghanistan and Iraq.The ceremony was attended by a color guard of special forces soldiers from Ft. Carson outside of Colorado Springs and by several 10th Mountain troopers now stationed at Ft. Drum in northern New York. One spoke of the new war on terror.”On Sept. 11 we watched the enemy draw a battle line right through our living rooms,” Bartell said. “This is an enemy without honor. Their weapon is an explosive device.”Bartell said the new war requires a different kind of army, one that is more responsive and better trained.

FewerAcross the nation, the ranks of the World War II veterans are shrinking. An estimated 1,100 World War II veterans die each day. So it is with the 10th Mountain troopers, many of whom are now old men.”Our ranks are thinning,” said Ret. Col. Earl Clark. He addressed the gathering during what was called “perfect 10th Mountain weather,” – sun with intermittent snow showers. “There are fewer of us each year.”Dave Griswald, 84, of Buena Vista is one of the veterans. He attended the ceremony because he felt obligated to honor his fallen comrades.”I have sentimental feelings and I like to see old friends,” he said.Several other veterans, some toting portable oxygen containers and others using walkers or canes, looked up old friends and comrades in arms. Many brought their families. Nearly 250 people attended the event.A cadre of speakers added perspective to those who haven’t fought wars on the day when this country honors the people who died in all the wars it has fought.

Some thoughtsIn welcoming remarks, David Little, a military historian, highlighted the importance of Memorial Day.”Tradition is one of the things that binds us together as a country,” he said, then quoted from a poem: “The Apennines so far away cannot erase our thoughts today.”Author Flint Whitlock, a son of a 10th Mountain trooper, who wrote “Soldiers on Skis, said, “Let not the years dim the courage of those frightened young men. These are young men who came to Colorado to train and harden their bodies.”Co. Kevin Wilkerson, a member of the staff for the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington, D.C., said Memorial Day is when we honor the fallen who, in Lincoln’s words, gave “the last measure of devotion.””Those are men who will not grow old,” Wilkerson said. “We need to stop to remember the men who paid the highest price for our freedom.”Wilkerson said that when he was originally contacted to participate in the 10th celebration several years ago in Ft. Drum, he was tied up with a major training mission and saw little value in attending the ceremony.”I’ve never been more wrong in my life,” he said. “The men and their families (veterans of the 10th) transformed my soldiers before my very eyes. From that moment on we changed the focus of our activities and reprioritized our efforts (around Memorial Day). Those soldiers drew unbelievable strength and courage from the trails they drew in the snow.”

War is nothing to be celebrated, said Bartlett.”Nothing is more repugnant to these people (veterans) than war for war’s sake,” he said. “Bullets do not discriminate.”Wilkerson read an e-mail he received from a soldier stationed in Iraq who wrote about the enemy there.”They aren’t monsters,” he said. “They’re ordinary people.”The Memorial Day celebration ended with another great American tradition made possible by the defense of freedom: a picnic lunch at Ski Cooper’s lodge.Cliff Thompson can be reached via e-mail at: cthompson@vaildaily.com or by calling 949-0555 ext. 450.

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