By Lt. Col. Matt BramanFebruary 28, 2013
FORT CARSON, Colo. -- Descending from about 14,000 feet above sea level on the western edge of Mountain Training Area 3 at Fort Carson, Colo., the crew of Knighthawk 373 from 10th Combat Aviation Brigade conducted their final reconnaissance of the landing zone known as Horseshoe. With crew members all under oxygen to ensure clear minds and quick reflexes, they focused on the landing at 13,400 feet.
As they looked west into the valley, the town of Leadville -- site of North America's highest airport -- lay below at 9,927 feet. The crew, however, was not particularly interested in that site. Instead their attention was focused a few miles to the north, to the empty foundations of the birthplace of the 10th Mountain Division.
Camp Hale and Cooper Hill are tucked into a small valley surrounded by towering peaks just inside the gateway to the Rocky Mountains. As the crew flew over, they reflected upon the more than 15,000 troops who spent the early years of World War II there while preparing for their eventual "Climb to Glory."
"For anybody who has read about the history of the 10th Mountain Division, there's no way you could fly through there without imagining the mountaineering training that went on there," said Chief Warrant Officer 5 Bob Cuyler, who is among the senior active-duty members of the 10th Mountain Division Association with 15 years.
Hundreds of 10th CAB aviators have been cycling through high-altitude mountainous environment training in the Rocky Mountains since October in preparation for a future deployment to Afghanistan. The Department of Defense has announced the unit is scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan this spring.
The crew had hoped to land at Camp Hale, but weather conditions prevented it. That would not deter two crew members from reaching the historic site. Cuyler and Capt. Tom Jones, both pilots with 10th CAB, decided to drive up to Cooper Hill on Jan. 24.
"While conducting the site reconnaissance of Camp Hale and Cooper Ski Hill, the original division ski training area, we came across a pair of Army-issued skis and a plethora of memorabilia bearing the 10th Mountain Division insignia," Jones said. "This discovery quickly led us to the opportunity to rub elbows with some of the division's original members."
The skis that the pilots found in the lodge on Cooper Hill measured more than seven feet long and bore the name of one of the division's earliest members, George Loudis. When they discovered that Loudis is a local legend who still lives in the area, Jones made a phone call, during which Loudis invited the crew to join members of the 10th Mountain Division Association, including several original division Soldiers, at their monthly meeting Jan. 28.
The small contingent of current 10th Mountaineers, ranging in rank from private to lieutenant colonel, had the honor of spending a few hours learning about how the division was formed and hearing about each veteran's personal journey to the top.
Loudis, a high school dropout, left Schenectady in late 1943 and took his love of the mountains to Camp Hale.
"It was cold, hard training; not for old men," Loudis said in a phone interview. "But it was just right for an 18-year-old recruit."
As a member of H Company, 86th Infantry Regiment, Loudis, who currently serves as the Rocky Mountain Chapter president of the 10th Mountain Division Association, arrived in Italy on Christmas Eve in 1944 via Camp Swift, Texas.
While Loudis was making his way out west, Earl Clark, Neal Yorker, Dick Over and Art Delaney had already deployed to the Aleutian Islands, landing on the island of Kiska. They were with the first elements of the division to seek out the enemy. They returned to Camp Hale in December 1943. Dick Kaufman and Hugh Evans joined the division at Camp Hale before deploying to the Italian Campaign.
Clark went on to retire from the Army as a lieutenant colonel in 1963. A member of the Infantry Hall of Fame and the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame, he recently was featured in Warren Miller's latest ski movie that describes the 10th Mountain Division's impact on skiing in Colorado.
Yorker, a mortarman, was one of six sets of brothers in the division, all survivors of the war. He was cited for his heroic action on Mount Della Vedetta, where he fended off a fierce German counterattack with his pistol and grenades. He later was wounded on Mount Croce.
Over completed his infantry training before being assigned to 110th Mountain Signal Company. After the war, he became a ski instructor, and he routinely joins Clark in telling the division's story to people throughout Colorado. He also has been inducted into the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame.
Kaufman, of B Company, 86th Regiment, completed the Italian Campaign, and when the fighting was finished, he became a member of the 10th Mountain's Occupation Force that patrolled the Italian-Austrian border. It was there that he met his wife Edi, who survived the allied bombings in her hometown of Linz, Austria.
Delaney, from Brooklyn, joined the 87th Infantry Regiment after reading about the ski-troopers in Life magazine. After serving in the Aleutians, he fought in the Italian Campaign and later was wounded on Mount Della Vedetta. Upon his return from the war, he graduated from Cornell University in 1949.
Evans returned to school after the war and re-entered the Army as a lieutenant. He was awarded the Silver Star for actions on Mount Gorgolesco near Mount Belvedere.
Memories were recalled and tales flowed easily, as is often the case when warriors get together, away from those who haven't faced the fear and exhilaration of combat. Soldiers old and new shared the commonalities of their mountain warfare experience. Although those experiences happened 70 years apart and on different continents, both generations of mountain warriors wore the same patch.
"I was impressed with all the fine Soldiers who visited us," Loudis said. "I'm proud to know there are people like that in our service."
Evans remarked on how much simpler war seemed back in his day versus today. Soldiers back then knew that their war would be over once they beat the German army. Today there is less certainty and not a defined victory point for Soldiers.
As the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the 10th Mountain Division Association wrapped up their monthly meeting, both old and new mountain troopers left with the pride that the storied history of the division from start to present day is alive and well.
With just over 400 of the original 15,000 Camp Hale men of the World War II division remaining, the names George Loudis, Hugh Evans, Dick Kaufman, Neal Yorker, Dick Over, Earl Clark and Art Delaney remain synonymous with Kiska, Po Valley, Mount Belvedere and Riva Ridge.
"The original members of the 10th Mountain Division won't be with us too much longer," said Jones. "A lot of their children are trying to carry on the 10th Mountain tradition. We as a division should join forces with the offspring to preserve the legacy."
(Braman serves as commander of 2-10 Aviation Regiment, Task Force Knighthawk, 10th Combat Aviation Brigade.)