Giachino: Thank you to the 10th Mountain Division’s Sandy Treat from a very grateful American (column) | VailDaily.com

Giachino: Thank you to the 10th Mountain Division’s Sandy Treat from a very grateful American (column)

Sarah Giachino
Valley Voices

Editor's note: Visit http://www.skimuseum.net for a schedule of Sandy Treat's 10th Mountain Fireside Chats.

How many times can you say, "I met a legend today"?

I was honored to be in the audience at the Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum's Friday 10th Mountain Fireside Chat and heard firsthand accounts of World War II combat memories from Sandy Treat, a local 10th Mountain Division veteran.

I met Sandy at the Alpine Club in Arrowhead. When I learned he was one of the last living soldiers from the 10th Mountain, I introduced myself. Sandy reminded me of my Dad, Lt. Charles Hardman 30th Division, 117th Infantry, who served in World War II, and like Dad, he was willing to share his memories.

Sandy told me about his beloved Gen. Hays whom he respected beyond words. He said, "I was just a sergeant," but I reminded him that the sergeants were the direct link to the enlisted men, and Dad always listened to his sergeants. He nodded and started telling me incredible stories. I knew I had to see Sandy speak.

When I entered the museum where the 10th Mountain introductory film is shown, I knew this was the birthplace of important history that explained how the soldiers of the 10th Mountain helped the Allies win the war and, to my surprise, introduce the recreational sport of skiing as we know it today.

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Soon from the back entrance appeared Sandy at 15:00 sharp. He slowly walked toward the front without assistance, greeting everyone and gently sat down with a bright smile.

He asked if any of us had visited Camp Hale. He emphasized the importance of the current bill in Congress to preserve it as a National Historic Landscape. I could immediately sense that this bill was important to him and should be to us, too.

Sandy was angry after the attack on Pearl Harbor and left Dartmouth College to enlist. He explained the rugged training at Camp Hale, his deployment on a ship and disembarking in southern Italy. Also details of the horrific four-day battle on Riva Ridge, February 1945, where the Americans suffered enormous casualties.

He admires the Italians to this day for helping him and his soldiers navigate through the rugged, mountainous terrain when they were at a huge disadvantage. He said the Italians hated Mussolini. He actually saw the upside-down, dead Mussolini hanging in the town of Milan and mentioned, "The smell was terrible, and they left him there, too."

To my surprise, Sandy said they never picked up their skis.

"All of that training, and we never skied." Because of their expert training in the high, rugged mountains of Camp Hale, they knew how to navigate through bitter-cold, high-altitude conditions.

Sandy's mother wrote him every day, and I asked if he still had her letters. His voice softened as he recalled that nobody had asked him that before. He didn't have her letters, but his mother always believed he would return home. His parents were waiting for him when he disembarked from his ship in New Jersey at the end of the war.

As Sandy was winding down his talk, he spoke of personal tragedies, suffering the loss of two wives and two adult children. He also survived a terrible ski accident at age 93 and lost an eye but concluded that, at 95, he has lived a happy life. I was in tears at this point of his talk.

On Fridays at 3 p.m., stop by the Museum and listen to Vail's own national treasure, Sandy Treat. His memories will stir your heart and remind all of us that we live in an incredible country today because of men like Sandy who interrupted their lives and answered the call to defend us against an evil and powerful force.

We must support Sandy's passion for increased protection of Camp Hale. The Continental Divide Recreation, Wilderness and Camp Hale Legacy Act has been introduced to Congress. Camp Hale must be preserved for future generations to explore and learn from it. Do this for Sandy; do this for us, our children and their children.

As we were walking out, I said, "Sandy, you remind me of my Dad and that is the highest compliment I could ever give anyone." He just smiled and nodded.

Thank you, Sandy, from a very grateful American.

Sarah Giachino is a resident of Wilmington, North Carolina, and Edwards.