Thompson: Real history worth celebrating |

Thompson: Real history worth celebrating

Pete Thompson
Valley Voices
Pete Thompson

Did you feel the ground shake Saturday night?

That night, in 1945, 700 soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division silently and secretly hiked up five different trails in the Italian Alps to occupy a ridge of five contiguous mountains. The ridge is called Riva Ridge.

They started the climb in the dark at 10 p.m.. This was their first combat deployment. Can you feel the anxiety? 

There in the middle is a staff sergeant named Pete Seibert. For more than a week he had secretly scouted the mountain, rock by rock, seeking routes to move men and weapons up to occupy the ridge. The climb ranged from 1,500 to 2,200 feet. If the Germans detected the assaulting Americans, it would have been a catastrophe.

Pete fought off his fear by concentrating on being silent and focusing on what he and his 40 men had to do once they reached the top. The climb took more than five hours. Upon reaching the top, the soldiers dug shelters in the snow. As daylight dawned, there was a dense fog, providing a perfect cover for their advance on the German positions. This is their first combat assault. Can you feel the anxiety? 

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But the Germans could not believe that any attack could come from the steep mountainside. Their gun emplacements were not designed to beat back an assault. They were confused and frightened and didn’t know what to do.

The Americans seized the entire three-and-a-half mile Riva Ridge. The members of the 86th Regiment of the 10th Mountain Division had succeeded in one of the most daring and difficult maneuvers in military textbooks. 

Can you feel it? Those wonderful boys achieved military immortality on their first combat deployment in 1945, and today the active duty members of today’s 10th Mountain Division are the most deployed division in the American arsenal and they earn their notoriety every day. 

And guess what? They are here in Vail. Saturday night, there were 30 of them skiing with infrared goggles down Vail Mountain. Didn’t see them, did you? Nor did the Germans on this night, Feb. 18-19, in 1945. 

We have a full week of military commemorations and activities:

Friday, Feb 24, at Ski Cooper: The 48th Annual 10th Mountain Division Ski Parade at 1 p.m. Please, it is open to all, so come ski in a grand military parade.

Saturday, Feb 25 at Vail Mountain: There is an 11 a.m. celebratory ski down of Riva Ridge, again with active duty members of today’s 10th Mountain Division. This is a 4-mile parade down the entire length of our most famous ski run.

Sunday, Feb 26 at Vail Mountain: At noon at the top of Chair 2, an American Blackhawk helicopter will land and be on display for all to see and experience. This is a great thrill, but make sure you wear your goggles because when the helicopter lands there is a great backlash of snow.

That evening at 6 p.m., we will be having our last 10th Mountain Division Legacy Parade at Vail’s Mountain Plaza: fireworks, movies, torchlight ski down, and veterans marching down Bridge Street to the famous statue.  

Come, celebrate some real history, and come participate in what made our country and our mountain great.

Pete Thompson is a local veteran who teaches for Vail Resorts and Colorado Mountain College.   

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