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The Tenth Mountain Division: A Story of Bravery and Determination
All the men in the company were pinned down and there commander had been killed. They were part of the tenth mountain division fighting the Nazi Germans in the mountains of Italy. Nineteen-year-old Private John Magrath was the man to step up, charging forward and destroying several enemy positions and a machine gun nest. Later that day Magrath was killed by a mortar shot, one of 992 killed in 10,000 man tenth mountain division. Over half the men in the company were either killed or injured. The tenth mountain division consisted of all volunteers most of whom were excellent skiers. They underwent two brutal years of training camping in negative thirty degree weather. During combat for the most part they did not even use skis, yet there heroics and sacrifice shown light on skiing. When the survivors returned they took up heroes roles in the ski industry. They went from soldiers to inventors, developers, teachers and entrepreneurs.
Before the start of WORLD WAR II skiing was just started to spread its wings as a sport. The chair lift had just been invented and the railroads crisscrossing the United States made access to mountains even easier. With the start of WORLD WAR II the ski industry kept going with no sign of stopping. Suddenly things changed with the Japanese attack on Pearle Harbor. Most of the ski resorts in the U.S. shut down. However, this did not mean that skiing stopped. For the volunteers of the tenth mountain division it had just started.
Skiing had been a part of the military in Europe for hundred of years. However, it was not until WORLD WAR II, that the United States created there own skiing division, with much cajoling by Minot Dole the National Ski Patrol Director. The division was activated in June of 1941, at Fort Lewis, Washington. The newly formed tenth mountain division set up for training at Camp Hall Colorado. Some ten thousand hearty men volunteered and were enlisted. The group consisted of many expert and even famous skiers as well as those who had never skied before. However, they were all brave, tough, and willing to make a sacrifice fore there country. At camp hall the recruits were taught with the newest teaching style, the Arlberg technique. Training at Camp Hall was not just an easy ski lesson. The tenth mountain division also became experts at wilderness survival, mountaineering, rock climbing, and all other aspect of survival and combat in mountainous regions. For two brutal years they trained in extreme conditions all at high altitude. The training culminated with an extensive multi day battle simulation with temperatures dipping below negative thirty degrees. The tenth mountain division showed great comrade and minus some frostbite were all in good shape and good spirits at the end of there training.
In the first five years of WW II, the Riva Ridge and Mount Belvedere in the Apennine Mountains had been assaulted by the U.S. Fifth Army three times all resulting in retreats. This was before the arrival of the tenth mountain division, who were deployed finally deployed into the mountains of Italy. The tenth mountain division was charged with advancing from Italy’s Apennines to the Brenner Pass. All the other attempts by the U.S. had been stopped were they started, at Riva Ridge. With bravery, sacrifice, cunning, and determination the tenth mountain division pushed the Nazis back advancing though the mountains. The battle were not fought gracefully on skis as the imagination might lead one to believe, but were fought almost exclusively without skis. Throughout the advance the tenth mountain division suffered the highest mortality rate of any American company. There grit showed as they advance despite the terrible losses. As the war progresses news of their heroics reached home.
When the war was finally over, and the depleted and injured tenth mountain division finally headed home they received a hero’s welcome. The American people were not only captivated by their bravery but also by the romantic idea of combat on skis. The Europeans had always dominated skiing and the tenth mountain division has showed them that they were just as adept. This pride showed, and skiing began to rise in popularity.
With the end of WORLD WAR II the esteemed tenth mountain division was decommissioned. With the war over and there division dismantled it was time for the men of the tenth mountain division to get back to civilian life. Even the men who had not skied before they became part of the tenth mountain division seemed to be enthralled with skiing. An extremely large portion of the surviving tenth mountain division went into the ski industry with a great vigor. Suring the war the tenth mountain division had been given very shoddy ski equipment. Some of the men became inventors and worked to improve the equipment. Other even started there own skiers. Two of the biggest ski resorts in the world, Vail and Aspen, were founded by men from the tenth mountain division. Sixty-four ski areas were either founded by, were run by, or had ski schools directed by tenth mountain division men. Some 2000 of the men became ski instructors and passes their experience on.
The energetic and determined men of the tenth mountain division were just what the ski industry needed for a jump start. The tenth mountain division was the catalyst that set the industry on fire. The tenth mountain division was looked at with awe. It men were forever heroes as well as excellent skiers. Their passion and dedication paid off as skiing took off. The technological advances of WORLD WAR II had also helped the ski industry. With new advancements skiing became easier and as the sixties rolled around skiing was a huge business and sport with many thanks to the tenth mountain division.
Today the tenth mountain division has been reinstated and has fought in Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq. They don’t hold the same esteem as the original tenth mountain division but they are of the same mold, brave and determined. Although, the inventions and advancements the came from the tenth mountain division have certainly been surpassed you can still sometimes see the impact. However, when most people ski by and see a trail called Minie Dole they don’t think of the man who stared the tenth mountain division. With the recent addition of the ski hall of fame and other museum the tenth mountain division is starting to get a little more recognition. Despite, this more people need to look back and appreciate what the tenth mountain division did for American and skiing.
Skiing has seen its heroes rise and fall. The tenth mountain division will always be remembered for its bravery, determination, and sacrifice in the mountains of Europe. However, we should also remember how they came back after WORLD WAR II as heroes and helped create one of the biggest booms in skiing’s history. Without the sacrifice and determination of the tenth mountain division skiing would not be were it is today.