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Sports Illustrated, 1971

Sports Illustrated, Feb 8, 1971, p. 55 - Johnson, William , "Phantoms of the Snow"

This is a well written, inspirational look at the 10th Mountain Division. It was proabably one of the first retrospectives appearing in the popular press and not written by a division veteran. I think many later writers used this article as a source.

The author describes the genesis of the U.S. mountain troops. The key themes have been repeated by other writers: Anxiety in New England about a Nazi invasion of the East Coast; the success of the Finns defending their homeland against the Russians on skis; the reluctance of the War Department to form mountain troops; the efforts of Charles Minot Dole to convince General George Marshall. Recruits who came through the National Ski Patrol System were called "three-letter men" because of their three letters of recommendation. The division received more publicity than any other unit early in the war. The propaganda machinery, including the 20-minute Warner Bros. film Mountain Fighters, gave the division an elite, almost swanky aura. The division's newsletter, The Blizzard, published a pinup picture not of a girl, but a hill - the Mountain of the Week.

The author describes training at Camp Hale (where southern recruits referred to their skis as "tawtchah boads"), the Kiska invasion (in which 28 men were killed and 50 wounded by friendly fire), the D-Series maneuvers, deployment to Italy, and the battles from Riva Ridge across the Genghis Khan Line toward Brenner Pass. During the Italian offensive, the division "had effectively crippled or destroyed nine German divisions and taken more than 20,000 prisoners." 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."

Sources for this article include a graduate-school paper about Camp Hale by 10th veteran Andrew D. Hastings, written in about 1970. The author mentions prominent veterans such as conservationist David Brower, Sen. Robert Dole, and Massachusetts Gov. Francis Sargent. A sidebar lists post-war builders of the U.S. ski industry. There is a poem by Pfc. C.K. Moore and excerpts from several division songs, including "Phantoms of the Snow," which I haven't found elsewhere:

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!

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Last Updated: Wed Dec 30 16:25:22 PST 2009