While researching U.S. Army units in World War II for a novel I am revising, I came upon a note that said the 10th Mountain Division arrived in Italy on a certain day. Bingo, I thought, if I can find enough information, this should be the unit for my protagonist, a young man from the mountains of Colorado. I had outlined him to serve in Italy during the war. This division seemed made for him....if I could find material on it.
I found more material than I could hope to read, but by far, the best history I have found is Climb To Conquer by Peter Shelton. It is well written, well researched, and a delight to read. Published in 2003, the author blurb tells us that Peter Shelton has been a contributing editor and columnist at Ski magazine as well as a correspondent for Outside magazine since 1984. He was described as living in Montrose, Colorado.
His author photo shows him wearing ski goggles, so I took that as a way of telling us he had knowledge of skiing. Knowing the location and history of Montrose, I assumed he would know the Colorado mountain terrain and the site of the 10th Division training camp. I was not disappointed in either assumption. He described the setting in both hot summers and frigid winters so vividly that one could picture them. His knowledge of skiing, and the knowledge of those he relied on is clearly evident.
The 10th Mountain Division won the tag of being an elite group. To an extent this was true. World class skiers, Olympic Champions, college boys from ski teams, and men who had to have three written recommendations from their Ski Patrol leaders, made this a unique gathering.
The group came together at the newly and quickly built Camp Hale, between Leadville and Vail, Colorado. There they trained, not for months, but for over a year. Training and testing newly made ski and mountaineering equipment from firms around the world. At the same time, learning to attack, defend, and move quickly and quietly while carrying 90 lbs on their backs as they cross country and downhill skied. Their 'dress whites' were ski suits, helmets, goggles and even poles and skis themselves, all in white.
Finally, the war called upon them. There was a stalemate in the Apennine Mountains of Italy. Special troops with special skills were needed to scale and capture the mountains ridges. Could this elite group really get the job done? Really remove the entrenched Germans from Italy? You bet they could. In great descriptive detail, we move silently along with these men on the various mountains and ridges as they pursue the enemy.
The group was the last U.S. division to enter the war in Europe, but it its few months there it helped free the Italians of the enemy and pushed the Germans beyond Lake Garda in northern Italy in 1945. In doing so, this group suffered the highest number of casualties per combat day. Theirs was not an easy task, but they completed it with glory.
Climb to Conquer tells their story from inception to the end of World War II. It is a little known story of a valiant group of men. Elite? Yes, because of who they were and the vision they saw and brought to life.
Today, the division still exists, serving in all of our recent wars. Watch for them, they are still sacrificing and making the news. Or check them out online. Several sites available. You might start with their home organization. http://www.tenthmountain.org/
Books available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, new and used. Its a great way to learn about this group. Any WWII reader would enjoy this book.