03 June, 2012

03 June 1945

438th AAA AW BN
APO 339 % Postmaster, N.Y.
3 June, 1945      0900

My dearest sweetheart –

Chalk up another Sunday morning wasted, dear. It’s such a swell day here for making plans to spend the day with you. Of course, we could have talked it all over last night when we went to bed, but something always turns up on Sunday mornings – and it’s better to wait.

That’s the only time I really and truly get angry, darling, when I realize how time can be wasted and is being wasted. I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have you or the thought of you to console me. I love you strongly, sweetheart, and knowing you feel the same way about me – makes all the difference in the world – between going buggy – or sticking the whole damned thing out. Fortunately, the greatest part of the sticking it out is behind us.

Over here – we suddenly realized yesterday that on the 6th of June – not only was it D-Day anniversary – but also it was the 3rd anniversary of this battalion. It was activated in 1942 – with a cadre of about 50 men and 10 officers. I joined the outfit shortly afterwards - and for some time – that’s all there were of us. There are only a few of us left – the others having been transferred out, reassigned, etc. Anyway – the anniversary calls for a celebration. We had just come back from maneuvers the 1st year - and everyone was interested in getting home. Last year – we were alerted. So this is it. Besides – we haven’t had a binge for quite a spell now – so darling – will you excuse me if I get a bit drunk on Wednesday? Now – don’t worry that I’ll be like that when I get home. I won’t. I guess you know that drinking is definitely not one of my obsessions – or do you? I can truthfully say I never miss it and when I get home – you’ll see. (Hope I don’t get tight on that train ride home to Boston.) All of us have saved a bottle of Cognac apiece for New York or Boston – wherever it is we dock.

Darling – I was just interrupted – and I was quite moved. I had to say “good-bye” to the 1st soldier in my detachment to be discharged – a Sgt who is over 42. He leaves in a short time. He was an excellent soldier and I hate to see him go. There were tears in his eyes. I wished him luck and told him if he ever needed a recommendation for anything at all – not to fail to write me, in or out of the service. Gosh, sweetheart, it’s going to be tough to see this outfit break up – I’ve seen it together for so long – 35 months today, to be exact.

Meanwhile – aside from the mornings – when I’m usually fairly busy, the rest of the day is practically my own – and I’m doing my best to get into prime condition. The paradox is that a soldier gets soft in combat. He isn’t made to drill, he isn’t regimented in the ordinary sense of the word. He’s allowed to relax in every way possible when he can. So we’re all pretty soft. I’m going to keep up with the tennis and swimming as long as I can. In that respect – we’re lucky we stopped in a nice spot like Leipzig. Other troops ended the war in small towns and stayed there.

Oh, dear – they’ve come to get me. There’s a bunch of soldiers downstairs who think they’re sick - so I’ll have to go. By the way – it’s a few days now – and no mail – so I’m expecting a nice bunch – any day now. And the enclosed picture, darling – I haven’t gone native. I’m down in our swimming pool which has just been emptied, helping to sweep it out. I just happened to be around and the boys were working hard – so I peeled off my shirt and helped. Some one of the fellows came by and snapped this and gave me two of them. I sent one home.

Leipzig - Greg Cleaning Swimming Pool - June 1945

And now, sweetheart, I’ll stop. I hope all is well at home, dear; My love to the folks – and

All my deepest everlasting love,


about the 10th Mountain Division

On 8 December 1941, the Army activated its first mountain unit, the 87th Mountain Infantry Battalion (this unit was later reactivated as headquarters for the 87th Mountain Regiment) at Fort Lewis, Washington. The 87th Mountain 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 Mountain formed the core of the new Division.

This unique organization came into being on 13 July 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 22 June 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 6 November 1944, the 10th Division was re-designated the 10th Mountain Division. That same month the blue and white "Mountain" tab was authorized.

The Division entered combat on 28 January 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 3 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.

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, 2nd 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 18 February 1945, was a complete success and an unwelcome surprise to the Germans.

10th Mountain Division in Battle

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 19 February 1945. 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 7 counterattacks over 2 days. After the first 3 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.

One of the major battles on March 4 involved the taking of a mountain known as MonteDella Spe. The 1st Battalion of the 85th took the mountain. Germans committed their major reserve, the 29th Panzer Grenadier Division, to the battle but, after four German counterattacks, the mountain was still in American hands. Sgt. Werner von Trapp, of the famous Trapp Family Singers of “The Sound of Music”fame, was a member of the 10th Mountain Division and was in a forward position on DellaSpe. Von Trapp could hear the enemy, just yards away, planning its assault. With Sgt.von Trapp translating the German commands, his company shifted positions each time to meet the Germans head on and stymie all 8 counterattacks.

On 14 April 1945, the final phase of the war in Italy began. With the 85th and 87th Infantry 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.

During that attack ex-United States Senator and former presidential candidate Bob Dole, then a 21-year-old 2nd Lieutenant with the 10th, was seriously wounded. He was leading a patrol to capture a prisoner when a machine gun protected by a minefield blocked their path. Dole was hit by machine gun fire, and the two men with him were killed. Dole's injuries resulted in the nearly total loss of his right arm.

That night, the American and German units settled into defensive positions. One of the 10th Mountain men carried a guitar with him and another had a violin. They accompanied the GIs as they sang into the night. When they sang "Lili Marlene", the Germans on the other side of the hill sang along with them. Then the Germans would sing a song and the guitar and violin would try to accompany them. The next morning, the two sides got up and started killing each other again.

Guitar Player of the 10th Mountain Division

Early on 20 April 1945, the seventh day of the attack, the first units of the 85th Infantry 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 23 April 1945, 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 27 April 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 2 May 1945. The 10th had completely destroyed 5 elite German divisions. In 114 days of combat, the 10th Division had suffered casualties of 992 killed in action and 4,154 wounded.

On 3 June 1945, on the crusty summer snows covering the steep slopes of 8,927-foot Mt. Mangart, where the borders of Italy, Austria and the former Yugoslavia come together, the 10th's best skiers challenged each other. 1st Sergeant Walter Prager, the Dartmouth ski coach, won. It seemed a fitting way not only to end the war but to begin the peace.

A racer on Mount Mangart

Veterans of the 10th Mountain Division were in a large part responsible for the development of skiing into a big name sport and popular vacation industry after World War II. Ex-soldiers from the 10th laid out ski hills, built ski lodges, designed ski lifts and improved ski equipment. They started ski magazines and opened ski schools. Vail, Aspen, Sugarbush, Crystal Mountain, and Whiteface Mountain were but a few of the ski resorts built by 10th Mountain veterans.

[NOTE: The pictures here were copied from Brian Kealy's Lecture
at the Imperial War Museum in London in March of 2011.]

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this nice post @ the Tenth. My father was in this esteemed unit, and was on Riva Ridge.