The tone of the
Yank article was furiously disputed, and the magazine was put on display around
the unit latrines. It was true, however, that the 10th had a bearing that other
outfits of the Army simply could not match. Because of the heavy influx of
collegians, the unit totted up a particularly high average of I.Q. scores. A
mark of 110 qualified any enlisted man for Officer Candidate School: one
regiment of the 10th had no fewer than 64% of its troops ranked at or above the
OCS level, and 92% ranked above the Army's average score of 91.
When drunk, men of
the 10th tended to do what they knew best, such as donning a pair of crampons,
taking a coil of rope and—starting from one wall of a lodge, lobby or
bar—crawling flylike up the wall, across the ceiling and down the other wall.
Or they would climb out of a hotel window—the higher the better—and simply
rappel down several stories of sheer brick to be received by the gawking crowds
on the street below.
At first this act
stirred attention outside Denver's Brown Palace Hotel during the 10th's
Colorado training phase, but later the crowds actually seemed to get used to
it. But at a downtown hotel in Austin, Texas it suddenly became death-defying
when performed for the lowland pedestrians, most of whom could scarcely bear to
It also was true
that when there were mountains to climb or slopes to schuss many men of the
10th would actually choose those recreations over everything else, even a
weekend pass. Francis Sargent, the good-natured and frank-spoken governor of
Massachusetts, was a member of the 10th, and he recalled, "My God, half of
the sonuvaguns in the outfit would rather go climb some rock than go down to
town and look for booze and broads. I remember thinking it was the damndest
thing for soldiers to act like that. But, of course, when the 10th got a few
drinks under their belts they'd go into their hotel-climbing act, which no
other outfit could top. And there never was anything wrong with the 10th when
it came to girls, come to think of it—not once they came down the mountains and
got their skis off, anyway."
There are many
other recollections by 10th Mountain men of scenes that could scarcely have
occurred in any other division of the Army. Of a university professor-private
first class gently reading aloud to his bunkmates from Dante in 14th century
Italian. Of a barracks in which there were only artists—talented young artists.
Of the professor-platoon leader who suddenly halted his hypertense squad as he
was leading them across the dank and fogged terrain of Kiska. "Look!"
he whispered hoarsely. As men all around him fell to the ground expecting
Japanese rifle fire, he pointed toward a small tree and said gently, "It's
a Peale's falcon, very rare, very rare."
ferocious weeks of combat the Blizzard, an uncommonly literate publication,
published information about the distinctive bouquet of various wines made in
different regions of Italy, certainly not the sort of information one might
expect in a service paper, but just the right touch for the division gourmets.
The paper also carried declensions of Italian verbs for those who wished to
learn the language. Earlier, when the division was stationed in Texas, the men
of the 10th got all involved in a watercolor-painting contest and, later, a
poetry competition. The best poems were published in a thin pamphlet titled
Brief Bugle. This was no exercise in locker-room doggerel. Many were
exceedingly sensitive. One poem, called The Captains and the Kings Depart, was
written by a Pfc. C.K. Moore and read in part:
What becomes of
The action lovers?
Benders of nature,
Extroverts of the will,
Determined of mind,
Not to be subdued,
Not to be thwarted
In their prime:
When their years are light
As April rain,
Do they die in a spurt
Of orange flame over Stuttgart—
50th Mission "incomplete"?
Or is life full for them
As a brimming glass
At a little flat in the East 50's,
New York City,
When the wife is at a matinee
And Jeff and Ruthie are sophomores
At Park Lane High?
Is it all over
But the shouting?
Are they dead—the action lovers?
The 10th Mountain
Division was an amorphous entity during much of its brief and curious life. For
months its headquarters was an office in the Graybar Building in Manhattan.
Then, at last, the first volunteer arrived at Fort Lewis, Wash. He was a former
captain of the Dartmouth ski team, with his skis on his shoulder and orders
freshly cut to join the 87th Mountain Infantry, which was the forerunner of the
full 10th Division. He was greeted with cold amusement. No one at Fort Lewis
had heard of any ski troops; the MPs laughed and told him he had made history,
because he was the only man ever to serve all by himself in an Army regiment.
But soon enough others arrived, mostly three-letter men (as their NSPS
recommendations had led them to be tagged); but many were no-letter men of the
regular Army, appalled at the prospect of spending a winter in the snow. Among
those arrivals were those paragons of transportation without which any mountain
unit is all but useless: mule skinners and their mules.
Perhaps one of the
more extravagant surprises awaiting the three-letter men who volunteered to ski
was the revelation that they would be required to learn the care, feeding and
friendly persuasion of mules.
The unit spent the
winter of 1941-42 on Mount Rainier, where the annual snowfall sometimes totals
500 inches; at times snow was banked as deep as the eaves of their barracks,
and the men used a network of tunnels in the snow to get about the place. Often
there were eerie, opaque fogs that obliterated all sense of place or time, and
powerful winds shrieked for endless hours during blizzards upon the mountain.
The regimen was desperately hard, but most of the men thrived on it. Even the
drawling young men of the South came to revel in the joys of the snowplow and
the stem Christy, even though they persisted in slurring references to skis as
bed slats, or "tawtchah boads."