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Veterans' last look back

The frail and aging members of World War II's 10th Mountain Division attend what some believe will be the last large national reunion for the soldiers on skis.

By John Ingold

Denver Post Staff Writer

Article Last Updated: 08/03/2007 02:33:32 AM MDT


Dick Powers limped on a stiff knee over to an old friend, remembering the days when they ran.


They chatted for a bit about those days, more than 60 years ago now, when they inhaled fear and exhaled courage. About that time in training when they practiced storming a beach near San Diego only to arrive on shore and discover that nobody bothered to warn the surf babes and housewives they were coming.


So clear was the scene in the mind of George Earle, Powers' friend, that he can still see the little boy with a toy gun crouching behind his terrified mother, pretending to shoot at the soldiers.


But when it came to recalling the name of a comrade killed in battle, memory failed them.


"Isn't it terrible," Earle said, "the way that works?"


Thursday was the first day of what will be the last national reunion organized by World War II veterans of the 10th Mountain Division. Descendants and history buffs may plan others, but many at this year's reunion regard it as perhaps the last chance to see so many of their brothers-in-arms. That's because age and frailty have thinned the ranks of the 10th, once 12,000 strong at their camp near Leadville.


Men who once climbed mountains now get winded crossing the hotel lobby. Men who once carried 90-pound rucksacks - even sang while doing it - now stoop with the weight of time on their shoulders. But for those who could make it, this reunion, held at the Denver Marriott Tech Center, is a chance to grip tight the memories of the events that made them who they are, before those disappear too.


"It's good to see these guys here, laughing, talking," Powers, 86, said. "...I don't think things should be - they may be gone - but they shouldn't be forgotten."


Pierre Delfausse was 26, and a father, when he was drafted into the Army and sent to the 10th Mountain Division's Camp Hale in 1943 because he had listed skiing as a hobby.


Being at the reunions, he said, helps him grasp other memories that had nearly escaped him.


"Things flash back you remember from 60 years ago," he said.


Delfausse said he's thrilled to see his old friends but sad too that some couldn't make it and that this is likely the last time he'll see others. This year, he brought his son with him and a list of 34 people he hopes his son can meet.


"He was a member of the greatest generation," Peter Delfausse said of his father. "They saved the world. And he saved it on skis."


Teles Lauzon, 84, also brought his son, Herb, with him.


Up until now, Herb Lauzon said, much of his father's military life had been a mystery to him. "I get to learn a few more things about my dad that I hadn't heard before or was too afraid to ask," he said.


"I never did talk much about it," Teles Lauzon responded. "I didn't want people to think I was bragging."


But at the reunion, Teles Lauzon said, there is a chance to meet people who know what you went through, who maybe even know the fear he felt one cold night in Italy as he desperately tried to dig a foxhole into a frozen mountainside while being shelled.


"Just to sit and talk and b.s. and fight the war again," he said of why he comes to the reunions. "And sometimes not the war, some of the parties we had."


Dick Powers was a teenager when he joined the service and happily volunteered for the 10th Mountain Division because he was eager to be sent someplace where it wasn't hot or buggy.


He told the Army he could ski.


"Which was only 90 percent lie," he said. "I'd skied enough to know which way the skis went."


But after the war, Powers would ski as much as he could - even playing a part in the growth of a young ski area on Mount Hood in Oregon - up until his knee gave him too much trouble, and he had to quit. In the past, Powers has made documentary films about 10th Mountain reunions, but now, he said, he just wants to enjoy this last one.


Early one morning next week, a group will leave from the Marriott headed for the mountains. It will wind through the high passes to Camp Hale. Then Powers will squint up at the slopes above. And just maybe somewhere up there he will glimpse his youth in a time before life got scary.


"It's like going back to the old farm where you grew up," he said. "It matured a lot of people. We were young guys. Hell, I was 20 then. ... This was where a lot of us really grew up."

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Found this on the www;


In November 1939, the Soviet Union invaded Finland. Finnish soldiers on skis annihilated two tank divisions, humiliating the Russians. Charles Minot (Minnie) Dole, the president of the National Ski Patrol, saw this as a perfect example of why the U.S. Army needed mountain troops. Dole spent months lobbying the War Department to train troops in mountain and winter warfare. In September 1940, Dole was able to present his case to General George C. Marshall, the Army Chief of Staff, who caused the Army take action on Dole’s proposals to create ski units.


On December 8, 1941, the Army activated its first mountain unit, the 87th Mountain Infantry Battalion (Later became an entire Regiment) at Fort Lewis, Washington. The unit was dubbed "Minnie’s Ski Troops" in honor of Dole. The 87th trained on Mount Rainier’s 14,408 foot peak. The National Ski Patrol took on the unique role of recruiting for the 87th Infantry Regiment and later the Division. After returning from the Kiska Campaign in the Aleutian Islands near Alaska the 87th formed the core of the new Division.


10th Mountain Division - World War II


This unique organization came into being on July 13, 1943, at Camp Hale, Colorado as the 10th Light Division (Alpine). The combat power of the Division was contained in the 85th, 86th, and 87th Infantry Regiments. The Division’s year training at the 9,200 foot high Camp Hale honed the skills of its soldiers to fight and survive under the most brutal mountain conditions.


On June 22, 1944, the Division was shipped to Camp Swift, Texas to prepare for the Louisiana maneuvers of 1944, which were later canceled. A period of acclimation to a low altitude and hot climate was necessary to prepare for this training.


On November 6, 1944, the 10th Division was redesignated the 10th Mountain Division. That same month the blue and white "Mountain" tab was authorized.


Combat - 1945


The division entered combat on January 28, 1945 in the North Apennine Mountains of Italy. The division faced German positions arrayed along the 5 mile long Monte Belvedere-Monte della Torraccia ridge. Other divisions had attempted to assault Mount Belvedere three times, even holding it temporarily, but none had succeeded. To get to Mount Belvedere the division first had to take a ridge line to the west known to the Americans as the Riva Ridge. The Germans on Riva Ridge protected the approaches to Mount Belvedere. The assault on Riva Ridge was the task of the 1st Battalion and F Company, 2d Battalion, 86th Mountain Infantry. After much scouting, it was decided the assault would be at night, a 1,500-vertical-assent. The Germans considered the ridge to be impossible to scale and manned it with only one battalion of mountain troops. The attack by the 86th on February 18, 1945, was a complete success and an unwelcome surprise to the Germans.


Mount Belvedere was assaulted next. Belvedere was heavily manned and protected with minefields. Shortly after the 86th assault on the Riva Ridge, the 85th and 87th Regiments made a bayonet attack without covering artillery fire on Belvedere beginning on February 19th. Again the surprise of the assault was successful and after a hard fight, the peak was captured. Realizing the importance of the peak, the Germans made seven counterattacks over two days. After the first three days of intense combat, the division lost 850 casualties to include 195 dead. The 10th had captured over 1,000 prisoners. The 10th was now in a position to breach the German's Apennine Mountain line, take Highway 65 and open the way to the Po Valley.


On April 14, 1945, the final phase of the war in Italy began. With the 85th and 87th leading, the 10th Mountain Division attacked toward the Po Valley spearheading the Fifth Army drive. The fighting was fierce with the loss of 553 mountain infantryman killed, wounded, or missing in the first day.


On April 14th, Private First Class John D. Magrath, from East Norwalk, Connecticut, assigned to Company G, 2d Battalion 85th Infantry, became the division's only Medal of Honor recipient. His company was pinned down by heavy artillery, mortar and small-arms fire near Castel d’ Aiano, Italy. Shortly after the company had crossed the line of departure, it came under intense enemy fire and the company commander, Captain Halvorson was killed. Volunteering to accompany the acting commander with a small reconnaissance party moving on Hill 909, radioman Magrath set out with the group. After going only a few yards, the party was pinned down. But instead of flopping to the ground as the others had done, Magrath, armed only with his M-1 Garand, charged ahead and disappeared around the corner of a house. Coming face to face with two Germans manning a machine gun, Magrath killed one and forced the other to surrender. Five more of the enemy emerged from their foxholes, firing at Magrath and retreating toward their own lines. Discarding his rifle in favor of the deadlier German MG-34 machine gun, Magrath mowed down the fleeing enemy, killing one and wounding three. He then saw another German position, moved forward, and exchanged fire until he had killed two and wounded three and captured their weapon. The rest of Company G followed his lead with amazed admiration. Later that day, Magrath volunteered to run through heavy shelling to gather a casualty report. As he was crossing an open field, two mortar rounds landed at his feet, killing him instantly. John Magrath, age nineteen, was awarded the Medal of Honor, posthumously. In June 1995, Fort Drum, New York renamed its Soldiers Sports Complex as the John D. Magrath Gymnasium. A plaque and portrait at Magrath Gym honor his memory.


Early on April 20th, the seventh day of the attack, the first units of the 85th Infantry Regiment broke out into Po Valley. Five days of attack had cost 1,283 casualties. With the German’s mountain line broken, the next objective was to cross the Po River.


On the morning of April 23rd, the 10th was the first division to reach the Po River. The first battalion of the 87th Mountain Infantry, the original mountain infantry unit, made the crossing under fire in 50 light canvas assault boats.


The final combat for the 10th Division took place in the vicinity of Lake Garda, a canyon lake at the foothills of the Alps. On April 27, 1945, the first troops reached the south end of the lake, cutting off the German Army’s main escape route to the Brenner Pass. The drive was delayed by destroyed tunnels and road blocks. Using amphibious DUKWs, these obstacles were bypassed and the towns of Riva and Tarbole at the head of the lake were captured. Organized resistance in Italy ended on May 2, 1945.


The 10th completely destroyed five elite German divisions. In 114 days of combat, the 10th Division suffered casualties of 992 killed in action and 4,154 wounded.


Since the 10th Mountain Division was one of the last to enter combat, it was to be used in the projected invasion of Japan. These plans ended with the surrender of Japan in August 1945. After a brief tour of duty in the Army of Occupation in Italy, the 10th was sent to Camp Carson, Colorado. There on 30 November 1945, the 10th Mountain Division was disbanded.

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Cheers for that John,

Re Kiska;.........Operation Cottage; there is info about this raid, along with other action's,in a book entitled 'The Black Devil Brigade', the true story of the first special service force.

* Note* other actions mentioned in Johns thread do NOT appear in said book, but its interesting read, non the less.




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  • 2 weeks later...

Cheers for that John,

Re Kiska;.........Operation Cottage; there is info about this raid, along with other action's,in a book entitled 'The Black Devil Brigade', the true story of the first special service force.

* Note* other actions mentioned in Johns thread do NOT appear in said book, but its interesting read, non the less.






The 1st Special Service Force - the Devil's Brigade - are mentioned in the recent Anzio book I reviewed. There are websites devoted to them. The unit featured in John's superb write up are different. I haven't seen the classic old war film with William Holden for some time. More cheese!


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