SI Vault
William Johnson
February 08, 1971
Men of steel and sons of Mars, Under freedom's stripes and stars. We are ski men, We are free men, And mountains are our home. White-clad G.I. Joe, We're the Phantoms of the Snow, On our ski-boards we're the mountain infantry, Happy-go-lucky; free. And from Kiska to the Alps, Where the wind howls thru our scalps, With a slap slap slap Of a pack against our back, We will bushwack on to victory! —A song of the 10th Mountain Division
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February 08, 1971

Phantoms Of The Snow

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This conquest of Belvedere by the 10th ultimately became the launching pad for the entire spring offensive of Clark's Fifth Army. Through all of April the American forces swept across the Apennines and into the Po River Valley. Indeed, with the impatient General Hays driving them along, the 10th became the spearhead of the spring offensive, crashing through the vaunted Genghis Khan Line in six days, ultimately becoming the first U.S. troops to cross the Po, then thundering on into the Alps to close the Brenner Pass.

On May 2 General Fridolin von Senger und Etterlin sadly surrendered the German forces in Italy to General Mark Clark. As his own special tribute to the ferocity and skills of the "swank" 10th Mountain soldiers, von Senger asked that his American escort to the surrender site near Verona be the 10th's own General Hays. Von Senger said that though he had campaigned on all three of the European fronts the toughest troops he had run into were the "elite men of the 10th Mountain Division."

It had been a remarkable display. In just four months of combat the 10th had effectively crippled or destroyed nine German divisions and taken more than 20,000 prisoners. Yet it was at a bloody cost. Few divisions were as horribly decimated in so few weeks. Although there were eight U.S. divisions involved in the Fifth Army's campaign through Italy, the 10th took a full one-third of the casualties. In all, 990 men were killed (including the champion jumper, Torger Tokle). Another 3,000 were wounded.

British Field Marshal Harold Alexander said later: "The only trouble with the 10th Mountain Division was that the officers and men did not realize that they were attempting something which couldn't be done, and after they got started they had too much intestinal fortitude to quit. The result was that they accomplished the impossible."

Perhaps the true perceptions of those days have faded from the minds of the 10th Mountain boys, now turned middle-aged. Perhaps the fact that much of what they did in Italy could as well have been done by "flatland farm boys wearing rubbers" really does not matter in their memories. They had their own tradition, their own sense of history.

Ah, yes....

Men of steel and sons of Mars,
We are ski men,
We are free men,
We're the Phantoms
Of the Snow.

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