Capturing Kiska Island
They often joked they were training for the battle of Camp Hale.They weren’t.In the summer of 1943, members of the 10th Mountain Division, part of the 87th Mountain Infantry Regiment, left Camp Hale for California’s Fort Ord for amphibious training. Along with other U.S. and Canadian forces, the 87th was preparing to ship out for the Alaskan coast and an amphibious assault on Kiska Island, one of the Aleutian Islands. The island had been held by the Japanese since June 1942.On Aug. 15, 1943, all the training, scheming and dreaming came to a head when the troop ships approached the island in a dense, thick fog.The men, new to combat, had no idea what lay ahead.After they landed, they spent three days maneuvering over the rugged, rocky terrain in thick, pea-soup fog. It wasn’t until after three days of slogging through the mud and rocks that they finally discovered the Japanese had left the island before the 87th made its landing.That discovery took so long because Kiska Island was being constantly pounded by artillery fire. But to their horror, soldiers finally realized that in the fog and confusion, the shots being fired were friendly fire. To their greater horror, they realized many lives were lost, including 11 men from the 87th Regiment.Over the next few months, while the 87th continued to occupy Kiska Island, seven other soldiers would die of various causes, including booby traps and accidents. Even though members of the 10th Mountain Division didn’t come under enemy fire, Kiska was a test in several ways for the new mountain unit. The island provided rugged terrain and miserable cold, wet weather to test the effectiveness of their equipment and skills, as well as their resolve.The 10th Mountain Division later fought throughout Italy’s northern Alps, one mountain to the next. They liked to say they had a worm’s-eye view of Italy.In 141 days of combat, the 10th Mountain Division saw 992 men killed and 4,100 wounded in some of the war’s toughest fighting.By April, the German army was in full retreat.Editor’s Note: This is part of a series on the 10th Mountain Division, whose veterans founded much of Colorado’s ski industry. Vail’s Trudy Richardson is the proud daughter of 10th Mountain Division veteran Norman James Richardson, a skilled amateur photographer who captured both the brutality and the fun he and his comrades went through during World War II. Trudy has been tireless in compiling her father’s photographs into The Richardson Collection. Large parts of the collection are now on display in the Vail Marriott Mountain Resort & Spa and the Vail Public Library.