By David VergunMarch 3, 2017
BLACK RAPIDS TRAINING SITE, Alaska (Army News Service) -- From an early age, retired Army Sgt. 1st Class Henry "Hank" Dube loved skiing, a passion that would one day serve him well in the Army.
Dube grew up on a dairy farm in New Hampshire in the foothills of the White Mountains. As a child, he made his own skis out of barrel staves, tied to his boots with strips of inner tubes.
In 1936, 10-year-old Dube met the renowned Swiss skier and mountain climber Peter Gabriel, who taught Dube alpine skiing at the North Conway Ski School. It was one of the first ski schools in the country. Years later in the Army, their paths would cross again.
In early 1942, not long after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, 15-year-old Dube enlisted in the Navy, lying about his age, eager for action. He was assigned as a gunner's mate on a destroyer escort vessel.
He saw service near Guam and other areas of the Pacific but was cashiered out of the Navy after his older sister sent a letter to the Navy stating that her brother was underage. "The war in the Pacific was heating up and my sister got scared and outed me," he said.
In 1944, Dube was drafted into the Army and served in the Philippines as a medic during the final year of the war.
MOUNTAINEERING FOR THE ARMY
Gabriel was drafted in 1942 and ended up in the 10th Mountain Division. The Army soon realized Gabriel's renowned mountaineering skills and that year sent him to the highest peak in North America, 20,310-foot Mount McKinley, to test out cold-weather gear.
A year later, Gabriel was involved in the fighting on Alaska's Attu and Kiska Islands, where the Japanese army had established a foothold. The fighting took place on bitterly cold and snowy mountainous terrain, lasting a full year before the islands were retaken.
After the war, both Dube and Gabriel stayed on in the Army.
Gabriel and a couple of other Soldiers founded the Army's Arctic School on what is now Fort Greely in 1950, about two hours south of Fairbanks, Alaska. Several years later, Gabriel led the school, which in 1963 was renamed the Northern Warfare Training Center, or NWTC, at the Black Rapids Training Site, about 20 miles south of Fort Greely in the Alaska Range.
Meanwhile, Dube was assigned to post-war occupation duty at Camp McCauley, in the Austrian Alps. He was the driver for Lt. Gen. William H. Arnold, commander of U.S. Forces Austria.
While stationed there, Dube met his future wife Ann, a local Austrian from Salzburg, who provided babysitting services for Arnold's children. Ann, now 88, said Arnold's wife Elizabeth taught her to speak proper English, correcting her "GI slang" that she had picked up from working with U.S. servicemen.
Ann and Dube hit it off right away, Ann said, as they both had a passion for skiing. At the time, Ann was the better skier and Dube learned a few techniques from her. The two fell in love and were married in 1946.
In the 1950s, Dube was stationed at Camp Hale, Colorado, where he taught Soldiers how to ski.
In 1959, Dube arrived at the NWTC as an instructor. There, he taught Soldiers snowshoeing, skiing, mountain climbing and survival techniques.
At the same time, Gabriel was the training specialist at NWTC, leading the group of instructors.
"He taught me everything," Dube said, not just about skiing and mountaineering but about leadership.
"If someone was doing something wrong, you could tell," Dube continued. "He'd not say anything. He would just wag his finger at you and you knew he was not pleased."
In 1969, Dube retired from the Army but stayed on at NWTC as an Army civilian to replace Gabriel as the new training specialist. He held that post until his second retirement in 1986.
Dube said it saddened him that today some students training at NWTC drop out. He said none of the students he ever instructed quit. "They would persevere come hell or high water."
Gabriel wrote the book on cold weather training, said Steven Decker, the current NWTC training specialist. Dube added to that knowledge in NWTC's "Cold Weather Operations Manual" of 1968, with revisions in 1972 and 1999.
While at NWTC, Dube and Ann lived on a small horse ranch near Delta Junction, a town near Fort Greely at the terminus of the Alaska Highway. After retiring in 1986, the couple remained at Delta Junction.
Dube used to visit NWTC all the time and skied with the Soldiers there until he was 88, according to Decker. He provided plenty of advice to them, drawing on his many years of experience, and he was deeply appreciated, Decker said.
Now 90, Dube still occasionally has coffee with Decker and some of his fellow Soldiers at the IGA convenience store in Delta Junction, a lunchtime hangout for veterans. The Soldiers from NWTC came en masse to the IGA to celebrate Dube's 90th birthday recently.
"It's nice to have a cup of coffee with Hank and just to know he was once in our shoes as an instructor," said Staff Sgt. Matthew Doane, an instructor at NWTC. "He's a great wealth of knowledge and shares his insights into training and equipment. He knows the history of cold-weather training."
Vern Aiton, a former Marine and Vietnam War veteran, who has coffee with Dube nearly every day, said Dube has led an incredibly adventurous life, climbing Mount McKinley twice (now called Mount Denali) and summiting other tall mountains in the Alaska Range. He also rescued many mountain climbers throughout Alaska.
Asked why he and others chose to live in the middle of nowhere in the extreme cold, Aiton replied: "Just look on TV at all the crap going on. We're away from it all. We all hunt and fish and like the outdoors."
Dube said, "Alaska has freedom. It's wide open. No one bothers you. I love it here."
(Follow David Vergun on Twitter: @vergunARNEWS)