Veterans

Legacy of the 10th Mountain Division

WWII veteran shares his story of pioneering outfit

Posted 11/7/16

In what Dick Over has tagged the “I Love Me Room” at his home on Lookout Mountain, plaques, recognition certificates and medals take up every inch of the four walls. Scattered among them is other ski and war memorabilia, such as maps and …

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Veterans

Legacy of the 10th Mountain Division

WWII veteran shares his story of pioneering outfit

Posted

In what Dick Over has tagged the “I Love Me Room” at his home on Lookout Mountain, plaques, recognition certificates and medals take up every inch of the four walls. Scattered among them is other ski and war memorabilia, such as maps and photographs. And resting on the windowsill are more awards in different shapes and sizes.

On Wednesdays, Over hikes with the SkiMeisters — a group of active, senior adults. On Tuesdays, he plays tennis. And at least once or twice a week, Over and his wife Marge dine at the Tuscany Tavern in Evergreen.

This winter, Over will be hitting the slopes again — both for recreation and as an instructor for seniors, something he has been doing for the past 10 years.

Over, 92, is a husband, father and grandfather, a skiing hall of famer and a World War II veteran of the 10th Mountain Division.

“The men of the 10th Mountain Division have had such an astounding effect on our history,” said Keli Schmid, archivist for the 10th Mountain Division Resource Center at the Denver Public Library. “Their knowledge and skills have changed the world forever, and future generations need to be able to learn about what those men did.”

The 10th Mountain Division is recognized for playing a key role in the Allied victory in World War II, and the soldiers who returned from the war are often credited for being the founders of the present-day American ski industry.

Over was born and raised in Pittsburgh and has been on skis since he was 10 years old. While reminiscing about his childhood, he mentioned he lived near the largest cemetery in the city, and he remembers the neighborhood kids piling snow onto the tombstones in the winter to make ski jumps.

“When people ask me, where did you learn to ski?” Over said, “I tell them, I learned to ski in a graveyard.”

After high school, Over began his studies in metallurgy at the University of Pittsburgh. During his senior year, Over submitted a project on the sources of energy for a national science fair, and won a work-study scholarship. He attended school in the evenings, and during the day, Over worked in the research lab of the university for the Westinghouse Electric Corporation under the direction of Dr. Trygve Yensen.

Yensen was on the National Ski Patrol, Over said, and on the weekends, the two skiers would go to the Seven Springs Mountain Resort, which is about 30 miles east of Pittsburgh.

“Dr. Yensen was teaching me the art of ski jumping when the war came along,” Over said. “He said to me, the Army is starting a unit of skiers and rock climbers called the mountain troops. He knew I would be drafted, and he thought that if I enlisted in the new mountain unit, it would be something I would enjoy.”

Over sent in his application, but never heard back from the U.S. Army, he said. But he was eventually drafted into the Army, and went to Fort Meade, Maryland, for basic training.

However, while assigned to a signal corps battalion at Camp Blanding in Florida, Over finally got word about his application to the mountain troops — known today as the 10th Mountain Division. He accepted the transfer and was put on a troop train making its way to Colorado.

“When it pulled into the newly constructed Camp Hale, and I got into the snow country, I was very happy,” Over said, adding he was not a fan of Florida with its bugs and Southern cooking.

Over celebrated his 18th birthday while training at Camp Hale, which is located in Eagle County near Leadville at 9,200 feet in elevation. Training included everything soldiers would need to know about alpine and winter combat — deep-snow maneuvers on skis, warfare tactics and weaponry. And much of it done in sub-zero temperatures, Over said.

Strength for the training, he added, was obtained from the camaraderie.

“Camaraderie is what makes a unit strong, and the 10th had it in spades,” said Hugh Evans, 92, also a veteran of the 10th Mountain Division. “The 10th was a very unique Army unit. We were a band of comrades that did our job, and did it well.”

Soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division during World War II are most known for their combat in Italy. But unlike Hugh — who ranked as a platoon sergeant serving in Italy — Over ended up as a warrant officer on an Army tugboat in Alaska preparing for the planned landings on the Japanese mainland.

Over spent two years on the Aleutian Islands building air and naval bases.

“While I was in this wartime operation,” Over said, “the atomic bomb was dropped in Japan, and the eventual end of the war came about.”

Life on the Aleutian Islands was miserable, Over said. It was cold and wet — either raining or snowing — all the time, he added. However, his crew of nine, who were all fisherman from Alaska who had been drafted, made sure they ate well. Over remembers eating some of the best meals of king crab and halibut during this time.

Although it was only for recreation, he did get to ski while on the islands. Over told of being able to start at the top of a mountain, and ski all the way to the coastline.

Over was discharged in December 1946, and returned to Colorado in early 1947.

“I came back to Colorado as fast as I could get here,” he said. “I was totally in love with the place.”

He met Marge, a Colorado native, in the kitchen of Saint John’s Cathedral in Denver over a breakfast gathering.

“And from there, it’s history,” Over said.

The two married on Oct. 22, 1953. They designed and built their house on three-fourths of an acre on Lookout Mountain 63 years ago. The Overs raised one son, Paul, 47, who had two children.

The 10th Mountain Division was deactivated after World War II, but was reactivated in 1985 and is based at Fort Drum, New York.

Having been sent to operations overseas throughout the 1990s — Somalia, Haiti and Bosnia, for example — into present day — Iraq and Afghanistan — the 10th Mountain Division has been the most deployed of all U.S. Army divisions since the Second World War.

And its veterans could not be more proud of the men and women serving in the division today, Hugh said.

In recent news, a patching ceremony took place Oct. 30 at Camp Hale as the Colorado Army National Guard became part of the 10th Mountain Division. Bearing the 10th Mountain Division on their arm is something they will take pride in, Over said, who attended the ceremony.

On Nov. 12, the Mount Lookout Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution will be honoring Over with a Distinguished Citizen Medal.

The medal is awarded to a person who fulfills the qualities of honor, service, courage, leadership and patriotism, and has contributed to the defense and security — and thereby the freedom — of the community, state or nation in an exceptional manner, said Marcy Kimminau, the chapter’s registrar.

“Dick deserves recognition for his work in ensuring that the legacy of the 10th Mountain Division is not forgotten,” said the chapter’s regent Joni Lewis. “His extensive efforts have increased knowledge of the contributions of the military, provided recognition of the importance of character strength, promoted the concepts of leadership and service and encouraged patriotism.”

Because of Over and others who continue to tell their stories of the 10th Mountain Division, the legacy of will carry on.

And Colorado has reason to be proud of the soldiers it produced on its soil at Camp Hale, Over said.

The 10th Mountain Division “was a turning point in war efforts,” he said. “It was all new to the Army. There was nothing like it before.”

SkiMeisters , 10th Mountain Division , Lookout Mountain, World War II veteran , Dick Over h

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