The 10th Mountain Division is a light infantry division in the United States Army that trained in the Colorado mountains for battle in World War II and is still active, now based at Fort Drum, New York. The division was originally constituted as a unique mountain warfare unit, specializing in fighting in mountainous and arctic conditions.
In preparation for battle in the Apennine Mountains of Italy, ski troops trained in the Rockies at altitudes up to 14,000 feet, often under brutal weather conditions and for weeks at a time. As if nature was not enough of a challenge, the men carried rucksacks sometimes weighing as much as 90 lbs.
Rock climbing was an important element of Divisional training. While some soldiers were recruited for their rockclimbing and mountaineering skills, the majority received specialized training. Mountains and rock formations around Camp Hale provided the ideal classroom for the soldiers. The training proved essential as troops from the 86th Regiment would make a night climb to capture German-held Riva Ridge in the Apennine Mountains of northern Italy.
Surrounded by the ruins of battle, this Company I soldier of the 87th Mountain Infantry Regiment finds comfort in a letter from home.
Another soldier, in the postscript to a letter he wrote home in February 1945, had this to say about the importance of mail call: "Received a letter from you, Mom, and you Dad, the other day. These letters are our crutches over here. Thanks very much," signed, Bill.
In 1942, in Pando, Colorado, there was a two-room train depot situated in the picturesque Eagle Park valley. By January 1943, an army camp filled the valley and was receiving the first men of the 10th Mountain Division for instruction in mountain and winter warfare, mountaineering, skiing and rock climbing. In less than eight months, the camp grew to accommodate a full U.S. Army Division of 14,000 men.
Roffeno, Northern Italy, 8:30 AM, April 19th, 1945: American aircraft bomb German positions. This was one of many significant engagements during the five months the 10th Mountain Division fought in Northern Italy.
From The Blizzard (10th Mountain's newspaper):
"For 40 minutes Spitfires, Thunderbolts and Liberators dived and soared over Roffeno Ridge, strafing, firing rockets, dropping high explosives and oil bombs, then wheeling through 200 foot towers of smoke of their own building. 'Give em hell' muttered the infantry, as the ground shook.... Villages in the placid-appearing valley disintegrated amid pin-prick flashes."
At the Jerome Hotel in Aspen, Colorado, the men unwind after a day of skiing. Even though the troops skied during training and camped in the cold and snow, when they had leave for the weekend, many of the soldiers could be found at nearby ski areas. After the war, several men of the 10th were instrumental in building the recreational ski industry we know today.
In 1987, the National Association of the 10th Mountain Division, consisting of alumni of the World War II division, designated the Denver Public Library Western History Department and the History Colorado as joint repositories of their historical materials. Among the contributions to the 10th Mountain Division Resource Center are personal correspondence, photographs, orders, diaries, maps and scrapbooks. Also included are artifacts such as skis, boots, uniforms, climbing equipment and other three-dimensional items. Hundreds of donors have made contributions to this collection, which is heavily used for research and exhibit purposes. Historians, collectors, writers, film producers, genealogists, students, 10th members and their families are some of the people who use the resource center.
An exhibit of material from the archival collection has been installed in the 10th Mountain Division Room on Level Five of the Denver Central Library. Visitors will see samples of the unique paper and photographic materials collected and donated by 10th Mountain Division veterans and their families.
Original material is still needed. Correspondence, journals, memoirs and other items unique to individual soldiers and / or units such as artillery, medical, signal corps, military police and quartermaster, are of great importance to the collection. If you have materials to donate, please contact the 10th Mountain Division Resource Center at the Denver Public Library.
For further information, visit our 10th Mountain Division Collection page, or search our photo database for 10th Mountain Division, or contact Keli Schmid at firstname.lastname@example.org or 720-865-1812.
[Text and research for this 1997 entry by Pamela Paulien; image / web adaptation by Randel Metz]