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,
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,
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.
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
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.
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