Highest Mountains, Toughest Conditions, Most Extraordinary Soldiers: 10th Mountain Division
It might be two weeks away, but if you want a seat to this FREE show, you’d better round up the troops and get there early because this local Showing of PBS Documentary: “The Last Ridge: The Inspiring Story of the 10th Mountain Division” will fill-up, and seating is limited.
On Thursday, Feb. 16 at 7 p.m. this documeatry will be presented at the Lake County Public Library in the Amax Room, followed by Q & A with 10th Mountain vets and filmmaker Abbie Kealy. The one-hour documentary recounts the 10th Mountain’s remarkable history, beginning with its earliest days as a legendary World War II alpine fighting force training at Camp Hale near Leadville, Colorado. During the war, the 10th Mountain gave new meaning to the phrase “uphill battle” as they embarked on a true mission impossible.
The story of 10th’s claim to fame begins with the Germans entrenched in Italy’s heavily fortified mountaintops, effectively blocking the Allied advance towards Germany. After losing 15,000 soldiers trying to capture this critical high ground, Army brass called up the 10th Mountain Division. The rest is history: how the 10th turned the tide for the Allies in Italy, revolutionized winter mountain warfare abroad, transformed winter sports at home, and inspired generations of soldiers.
Narrated by National Public Radio’s Scott Simon, The Last Ridge takes an active history approach to breakthrough to a younger generation. “Many young people today find it difficult to grasp the cataclysmic events of the World War II era,” said filmmaker Abbie Kealy. “There’s nothing in recent history that compares in size and scope of the devastation.” The film weaves together dramatic re-enactments, eyewitness accounts, 3-D animation, Allied and captured German archival footage and newly discovered letters to help viewers understand it in a meaningful way. It also looks at how the current 10th Mountain Division is taking the legacy from here, featuring 10th Mountain soldiers on patrol in Afghanistan, and those recuperating at Walter Reed Army Hospital.
The film helps viewers understand the times, terrain and what the 10th soldiers faced during battles and backbreaking training. They lived outdoors for weeks at a time, in sub-zero weather, at altitudes approaching 13,000 feet. No tanks, no trucks, no jeeps – just the men, their skis and whatever they could carry. The documentary includes interviews with several 10th veterans who were instrumental to Vail’s success: Bob Parker, Vail’s marketing guru and who helped put Vail on the map, and Sarge Brown, who headed up the Mountain Operations that made Vail a first class ski mountain. 10th Mountain descendent and producer Abbie Kealy filmed extensively in Colorado, Italy, Afghanistan and Slovenia, with insights from over 100 10th Mountain veterans and soldiers, including 10 others from Colorado.
“It’s clear when you talk to young soldiers today, that they are part of something that transcends now. That’s not lost on the soldiers of the 10th Mountain,” said Brigadier General Arthur Bartell, a former Chief of Staff for the 10th Mountain Division (Light.) “If you look at the battles fought in World War II, the 10th did the near impossible,” reflects Lieutenant General Lloyd Austin III, a former Commander of todays’10th Mountain Division (Light.) “Our 10th Mountain troops are still called to do the near impossible. The 10th Mountain mindset of going where others don’t is still important.”
“With a thousand World War II veterans passing away daily, the 10th’s extraordinary story is one that must be told now by the soldiers who know it best,” reflects Kealy. “We hoped to make the program of record about the 10th. It’s turned out to be a story that transcends time.”
Doors open at 6:30 p.m., film at 7 p.m. The Lake County Public Library is located at 1115 Harrison Avenue. For more information about The Last Ridge, visit www.lastridge.com or contact Abbie Kealy, (443) 570- 9482 AbbieKealy@me.com
More 10th Mountain Celebrations Planned in Leadville
The showing of the film marks the annual celebration of this special part of Leadville’s history, which will be marked on the slopes and in the schools. On Friday, Feb. 17 the Annual Ski-In is scheduled out at Ski Cooper. While the memorial is celebrated all day, for those interested in seeing the majestic serpentine ski down the mountain, plan to be out at the lodge no later than noon. The 10th Mountain Division will continue tate afternoon with lunch and skiing, wrapping up the day with a Memorial Service at the 10th Monument starting at 3:15 p.m. Of course, the nighttime revelry can be found at the Legendary Silver Dollar Saloon in downtown Leadville, much like the soldiers did many years ago.
Of course, as usual, the Tenth Mountain Division soldiers’ first stop of the week will be with local Leadville students. On Wednesday, Feb. 15 at 2 p.m. the Lake County School District’s 3rd Grade Class will host the assembly for the veterans at the high school auditorium. The students will present information about the 10th Mountain Division and the training they received while at Camp Hale.
Brief Background of 10th Mountain Division
For those who may not know, during the winters of 1942 to 1944, fourteen thousands soldiers learned and refined ski and outdoor survival techniques on Cooper Hill, present day Ski Cooper.
Construction of the U.S. Army’s Camp Hale began in April 1942, north of Tennessee Pass outside Leadville. On November 16, 1942, the Mountain Training Center moved from Camp Carson in Colorado Springs to Camp Hale where it faced the task of filling out its two final regiments – the 85th and 86th to complete the division. This was the only division of the U.S. Army trained specifically for mountain warfare up to that point in American military history. The mission behind Camp Hale was to develop the ability to survive and fight in any weather, on any terrain, under any conditions. Eight months later it would pay off.
It had been five years since Germany had invaded Poland, when a troop of men from the Tenth Mountain Division scaled 2,000 vertical feet of rock and ice during the night and under the noses of the German army camped on Riva Ridge. They arrived at the top in dense fog and when it lifted, the German soldiers were taken completely by surprise.
The Tenth Mountain was responsible for breaking through the German line, allowing Allies to penetrate north. While the victory was sweet, the casualties were great; 990 members of the 14,000-man division died in the Italian Campaign in the winter of 1945. Today, the Tenth Mountain Memorial stands at the entrance to Ski Cooper as a reminder to those men who fought in Italy to preserve our freedoms.
After World War II, the same terrain that drew the Army to Colorado for warfare training brought thousands of 10th Mountain Division skiers back to its slopes. Tenth Mountain men founded Vail, Aspen, and Arapahoe Basin. However, Leadville is the place that the Tenth Mountain Division soldiers still remember as home in the mountains. The love and generosity that the Leadville community poured out to them during a very difficult period in the country’s history will always remain in the hearts of the Tenth Mountain.