Mountain Men
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Thad Thorne '51
Thad Thorne '51 in Center Conway, N.H.

"Pemmican is very nutritious, apparently, and you could carry a lot without it taking up too much weight or space," Thorne says.

The experiment was a less-than-resounding success, however, and 65 years later the lanky veteran still grimaces as he recalls the tough and hairy rations he chewed until his jaws ached. "The other fellows and I lost a good 15 pounds apiece. After it ended and we ate our first real meal again, the whole lot of us got sick as dogs."

As the training wore on and the soldiers undertook grueling exercises like the infamous "D-series" that had them on maneuvers in the snow for six weeks straight, Camp Hale became widely known as "Camp Hell." The recruits also suffered the indignity of being mocked by other Army divisions as lightweights— college playboys who would rather schuss than shoot.

"Morale got pretty low," recalls Crowley. "We would come across soldiers from other divisions on our days off and endure a lot of heckling. For a while, there were a lot of guys who transferred out of the 10th Mountain and a whole bunch more who wished they could."

Mountain Men
Thorne cooking over an open fire on a Camp Hale training exercise.
Mountain Men
Thorne poses in front of the Camp Hale dormitories. Many soldiers spent just as many nights outdoors in tents as they did inside, however.

A low point came in 1943 when soldiers of the 87th regiment were sent to Kiska, in the Aleutian Islands, which the Army believed was being held by Japanese troops. Unaware that the Japanese had evacuated, and disoriented by high winds and heavy fog, the 87th fell into chaos, losing 23 soldiers to land mines and friendly fire. Then, in 1944, the entire 10th Mountain was transferred to Camp Swift, Texas, where several soldiers died from heat prostration in the first week.

The official word for the move was that the 10th Mountain needed flatland training, but both Mansfield and Crowley remember it differently: "There wasn't a general who was willing to take us to the front," Mansfield says. For all their training and specialized skills, and despite the desperate need for additional troops, the 10th Mountain's reputation as gadabouts who couldn't fight had stuck. "They didn't want us," Crowley adds. "They didn't have any idea we could fight."

Thad Thorne 51
Thad Thorne '51, second from left, snowshoes with three of his sergeants, Mayor, Bryan and DeRosier.
Mountain Men
Thorne is third from left. He wrote on the photo, "Mayor, Bryan, myself, DeRosier." After the war ended, Thorne was recalled to Europe, serving as the coach for the Army ski team in Berchtesgaden, Germany, through 1946. It was at Berchtesgaden that the lifelong skier's 10th Mountain derring-do came in most handy: Thorne often found himself volunteering to ski the races his soldier team members thought were too dangerous.

Finally, the war
But fight they would. After almost seven months of languishing in Texas, the 10th Mountain Infantry shipped out to Italy in December 1944 and January 1945 under the command of Gen. George Hays. The division's mission was to break the so-called "Gothic Line," a 120-mile stretch of Italian mountainside controlled by the German Army that blocked the Allies' critical route to Berlin. Two previous attempts to take Mount Belvedere, the key peak in the Gothic Line, had failed, and upon surveying the terrain Hays immediately understood the first step would be to gain possession of a peak to the west, a lookout the Germans were using to observe their adversaries.

Bennett, Mansfield, McCrudden, Crowley and Thorne were not among the troops charged with securing Riva Ridge—Thorne and McCrudden, as a matter of fact, weren't in Italy at all—but all five men can tell the story of the bold surprise assault by the 86th regiment on the ridge during the dark early hours of Feb. 19, 1945, and Mount Belvedere in the following days. Bennett, whose company was across the highway from Riva Ridge, describes the 2,000-foot face of the ridge as almost vertical and covered in ice.

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