The 10th Mountain legacy

Charles Agar
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

LEADVLLE, Colo. ” On Memorial Day, May 26, veterans of the 10th Mountain Division will gather in the hills above Leadville to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of their World War II monument on Tennessee Pass.

The date also marks the creation of the 10th Mountain Division Foundation, which was born on the same date from a nationwide outpouring of support for the memorial, outside of Leadville.

In 1958, a call for contributions in a news report by the then-popular radio broadcaster Lowell Thomas brought in donations far exceeding the cost of the monument, according to Hugh Evans, a veteran with the division and vice president of the foundation board.

Separate from the 10th Mountain Division Association, which is the fellowship arm of the division, the foundation was formed to manage the excess funds.

With an unpaid board of mostly veterans, foundation officials maintain the Tennessee Pass monument, hold memorial ceremonies, and fund scholarships and programs for veterans and their families, Evans said.

The 10th Mountain Division was formed at the outset of World War II as the only army unit organized for mountain and winter warfare.

The unit performed valiantly, with 30 percent losses in a successful campaign in Italy and across Europe, Evans said.

10th Mountain troops were slated for deployment to Japan when President Truman dropped the atomic weapons that ended the war, Evans said.

A handful of division veterans helped found skiing in Aspen after the war or settled in other parts of Colorado after the war.

The division holds regular reunions of the division and hosts trips to Italy to revisit battle sites.

Many in their unit ranks, however, are getting older or have passed on, Evans said, and descendants of veterans are carrying on the torch.

The division was re-invented as a modern light infantry unit in the 1990s, Evans said, and 10th Mountain troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan have formed a separate association and foundation, and there is talk that the two groups will combine forces. And the president of the foundation, Tom Hames, is in fact a veteran of the modern division, Evans said.

With foundation assets of about $350,000 in the 1980s, veterans made a push to raise more than $1 million through private donations, and today the foundation lists assets of about $2.3 million, Evans said.

Annual contributions, mostly from the families or estates of veterans as well as dividends on investments make up most of the foundation’s annual income, much of which goes to the growing an endowment.

In 2006, the foundation paid out more than $28,000 in scholarships, allocated $15,000 to fund a resource center at the Denver Public Library and issued some $23,000 in funds for an educational film and historical re-enactments.

Each year, about $4,000 goes to maintain memorials and hold services in the U.S. and in Italy.

Foundation money also goes to the Colorado Historical Society, Evans said.

The foundation employs an executive director, who also works for the National Ski Patrol in Denver where she takes a salary and where the foundation board makes regular contributions.

Evans, like many 10th Mountain veterans, remembers the rigorous training at Camp Hale, between Minturn and Leadville.

Troops went out on three-week tours where soldiers trudged all day on skis and stayed up all night on calls for guard duty, Evans said.

“Just stomped the snow down with your skis, turned them over and slept on them,” Evans said. “I thought they were going to kill us all off.”

But the rigorous training, and later flatland infantry training in muddy trenches of camps in Texas, enabled troops to tackle the rigors of war and cemented lifelong friendships.

“It was heavy combat,” Evans said of the campaign in Italy, where out of 15,000 men, 975 men died and 4,000 were wounded.

Veterans of the 10th Mountain Division will gather at the memorial on Tennessee Pass at 11 a.m. on Monday May, 26 to hear a speech from the group’s guest of honor, Lt. Col. Richard G. Green.

Organizers suggest guests bring their own lawn chair for the ceremony.