The 10th Mountain Division is back for Legacy Days in Vail
10th Mountain Division joins this weekend’s Legacy Days in Vail
- Along with the many Legacy Days events, this weekend you’ll have the opportunity to view equipment used for mountain search and rescue and other domestic operations, including a COARNG UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, a Small Unit Support Vehicle, and a High Mobility Multi-Wheeled Vehicle. The Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and High-yield Explosives Enhanced Response Force Package, a Special Forces all-terrain utility vehicle, and other team and individual military equipment used in high-altitude military and rescue operations will also be on view.
- While training, members of the 1st Battalion, 157th Infantry Regiment (Mountain), who aligned under the 10th Mountain in 2016, will ski with the public, build snow caves, and demonstrate the Colorado National Guard's capabilities.
- Soldiers will participate in Friday’s tribute parade at 6 p.m. and host Sunday’s military ski race at 4 p.m. Both are in Vail.
- Events are open to the public, however some on-mountain events may require lift tickets or passes.
VAIL — You should know where you’re from and who brought you.
That’s one reason Colorado Army National Guard soldiers will conduct ski and winter training during this weekend’s Legacy Days in Vail. They’ll hone their mountain skills while honoring Colorado as the original home of the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division.
After World War II, many of the 10th Mountain’s veterans returned to Colorado and put their mountain warfighting experience and skills to work to lay the foundations of Colorado’s ski industry.
Vail Founder Pete Seibert fought with the 10th, along with Bob Parker and so many others. Recruits included Paul and Ralph Townsend, skiing brothers from the University of New Hampshire, their teammate Steve Knowlton, Arapahoe Basin founder Larry Jump, Aspen founder Friedl Pfeifer, Glenn Stanley and Torger Dahl Tokle, holder of the world’s ski jump record at the time, 289 feet.
War is brutal in its simplicity.
The enemy occupied the high ground. The 10th was ordered to take the high ground.
The enemy was willing to kill to keep it. The 10th was willing to kill to take it.
People died. It’s how wars are fought. In 141 days of combat, the 10th Mountain Division saw 1,000 men killed and 4,100 wounded in some of the war’s toughest fighting.
“This year marks the 74th anniversary of the Battle of Riva Ridge in Italy during World War II,” the Adjutant General of Colorado U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Michael Loh said in a press release.
Many 10th Mountain Division heroes marched straight from their high school commencement line to the front line. They liked to say they had a worm’s-eye view of Italy.
On Feb. 18, 1945, the 10th Division took Riva Ridge — to prevent the Germans from being able to survey U.S. positions below — in a nighttime operation. The steep mountain was covered in snow and ice. At night, the Germans did not bother with guard patrols, because the conditions were so difficult that they did not believe any American unit could climb the ridge — day or night.
But the Germans were wrong and the soldiers of the 10th climbed, silently, to the top and secured Riva Ridge with minimal casualties.
The Army, being the Army, decided that if the 10th could do it once they could do it again. The next day they assaulted Mount Belvedere. They were victorious but paid a huge price. Hundreds died.
“The 10th Mountain Division Soldiers secured their place in history by defeating Nazi forces during this daring assault on the slopes of the northern Apennine Mountains. Following the war, many of these brave veterans returned to Colorado to establish our ski industry,” Gen. Loh said.
After fighting through northern Italy, several 10th survivors headed back to America, expecting reassignment to fight in Japan. While on their way, the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, and the war ended. Their troop ship pulled into New York Harbor to the hero’s welcome they deserved. Fireboats shot streams of water into the air, sailboats were everywhere. Soldiers looked over the sides, anxious to join the party.
“They were playing ‘Hail Hail, The Gang’s All Here.’ We said, ‘That’s not true. They should not be playing that,'” Hugh Evans, a 10th Mountain Division veteran said.
Because, of course, their gang was not all there.
Every time members and others of the 10th get together, as they will this weekend, someone reads “Soldiers Don’t Cry,” first published in the April 14, 1945, edition of The Blizzard, the 10th Mountain Division’s newspaper. Each time they remember, and each time they cry, recalling so many who did not live to come home: the soldier named Alan who wrote poetry, and the guy who created comic strips in the camp newspaper and made everyone laugh before the war killed them.
There was the guy who snatched up a hand grenade that a rookie dropped on a farmhouse floor and the pin fell out. He was about to throw it out a window, but another unit was just outside, so he ran across the room, hung his arm outside another window and the grenade blew his arm off. He told his wife he lost his arm in a training accident because the Army categorized it as so.
This Legacy Days weekend, somewhere an American flag will fly at half staff. People in the crowd will call out the names of loved ones lost to wars. Someone will play “Taps.” When the last note echoes off the mountainsides, that American flag will be swiftly raised to full staff.
Heroes don’t stay down long.