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PHANTOMS OF THE SNOW
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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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

Many of them are balding and softening now, bifocaled perhaps, white-collared, willing to see the world as defined each evening from Walter Cronkite's good gray lips. Many offer their utmost serious concentration each morning to the advice of helicopter pilot-announcers who tip off the serious commuter as to which of the city's concrete cloverleafs are suitable for passage that day. They are middle-aged—in their late 40s and early 50s mostly—caught irretrievably in the harness of modern survival. Admen, insurance men, postmen, tax men, salesmen.

Life is the usual: In basket, Out basket, telephone bill, change storm windows, change oil, change channels, mortgage due, daily bread, can of beer. The usual.

Yet all of them are quick, very quick, to make it clear that they were once part of something unusual, something unique and exciting, historic in its way. That would be the 10th Mountain Division of the U.S. Army during World War II.

It was an extraordinary outfit, full of esprit and vigor. Even now—a full quarter of a century after the 10th Mountain was disbanded for all time—there are enough barstool liars around so that the number of claims to membership in the division probably far exceeds its total allotment of officers, men, mules and Red Cross doughnut girls combined.

Authentic veterans of the 10th are readily identified by the nostalgic paraphernalia they have accumulated. There are the framed photographs of the aging veteran as a young soldier, kneeling in the snow, grinning and looking rakish, with dark ski goggles snapped atop his beaked Alpine cap, or draped like some moon creature in baggy camouflage-white parka and pants, hefting a white-painted M-1 rifle.

An authentic veteran of the 10th will own stacks of the division's lively newspaper, Blizzard. And he will invariably recall that the paper's regular pinup picture was not a girl, but a hill—the Mountain of the Week. McKinley and Rainier got more exposure than Grable and Hayworth.

Occasionally there will even be an old 78-rpm phonograph record that will give forth the hoarse, massed locker room sound of the 10th Mountain Division Glee Club, performing such numbers as Two Boards Upon Cold Powder Snow, Yo Ho or Ninety Pounds of Rucksack or Systems and Theories of Skiing, which goes like this, in part:

There are systems and theories of skiing,
But one thing I surely have found
While skiing's confined to the wintertime,
The drinking's good all the year'round,
Walla, walla, walla....

The 10th Mountain Division's Phantoms of the Snow are more than delighted to rummage about in their memories of walla-walla World War II. Most of them wound up believing they were markedly better men by the simple fact of having belonged to the 10th. Whatever civilian banalities may have been visited upon them in the meantime, there will always be that robust and ultimately ennobling service with the 10th to turn back to for moral resuscitation and repair of the soul. The 10th was an elite outfit—a little on the bizarre side perhaps, but indubitably elite.

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