FORT DRUM, N.Y. — Hilton Labow was a much younger man when he scaled Mount Belvedere with the mighty 10th Mountain Division in the dead of night to surprise the German Army.
“Mount Belvedere, we didn’t have any ammunition in the guns so we wouldn’t give ourselves away. We started with bayonets. When we got up there we put the ammunition in,” Labow said, reminiscing after watching Soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 15th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (LI) during a live-fire training exercise.
“We advanced all the while. General Hays didn’t believe in retreat. It was a little bit scary to tell you the truth,” he added with a laugh.
At 98 years old, Labow has lived nearly seven decades past the assault on Riva Ridge. As he walked through the 10th Mountain Division and Fort Drum Museum, talked with leaders and shook hands with Soldiers in full “battle-rattle” training in the heat of August, it was easy to tell that time has not diminished the respect he has for those who serve.
“I’ll tell you one thing, I’m really proud of them,” Labow said after seeing the training.
It is no small thing in the 10th Mountain Division to have an opportunity to make an original “Camp Hale Man” proud. During Labow’s visit, Col. Matt Braman, deputy division commanding officer – support, made sure he took the opportunity to shake his hand.
“What they were able to accomplish, the impact they had — it cannot be overstated,” Braman said. “These young Mountaineers showed us firsthand that service and personal courage can change the course of history. It’s a lesson we are reminded of when we look at our monument, and it’s a message that is incredibly impactful to our young Soldiers today.”
In a world where skepticism born of social media is a necessary character trait, today’s visit took on an additional meaning.
“Hilton Labow was born in the small hamlet of Halesboro in St. Lawrence County, went on to be a part of one of the most pivotal battles in World War II, was wounded in Po Valley, survived, flourished and walks our training ranges today with an authority born in blood and sweat and raw courage. He is an inspiration,” Braman added.
It is a sort of inspiration especially important today as the Army works to recruit the next generation of Soldiers. As part of Operation Mountain Awareness, a “future Soldier” was invited to meet Labow and see the training exercise with him.
"Operation Mountain Awareness is the 10th Mountain Division's support to U.S. Army accessions operations. The division's sphere of recruiting support coverage spans the entirety of New York state, northern Pennsylvania and the New England region,” said Lt. Col. Kevin E. (Coach) Smith, who leads this effort.
“Today's event, a prime example of how the Alpine Soldiers support a local recruiting station's mission and enables potential recruits or future Soldiers the opportunity to see, hear, taste and touch the Army's blue-collar division and witness firsthand our world-class installation," he added.
Keegan Larive hails from a community near Fort Drum, and he was inspired to join by his stepfather, who is currently serving in the Army. He said the invitation from his recruiter to speak with Labow and see the artillery training was an incredibly exciting opportunity.
“He told me ‘We need more young men like you.’ It made me happy,” Larive said after getting a moment to speak with the World War II veteran.
“It’s a great honor to witness this.”