Steamboat Springs Steamboat Springs resident Nancy Kramer said she was late to submerge herself in her father’s military history. But since she took a trip with him to the 10th Mountain Division’s memorial on the top of Tennessee Pass in summer 1978, she hasn’t looked back.
Kramer watched as Bill Robertson, a medic in the 87th Infantry during World War II, ran his hand down the smooth red granite, pausing at the names of his friends who had been killed in the war.
“It was there I finally saw what all this history meant to my dad,” Kramer said. “The car was very quiet with energy and emotion on our drive home.”
Her father died more than 30 years ago, but Kramer continues to honor his memory by carrying his army medic flag up mountain peaks across the world. Now, she is organizing a gathering of veterans and descendants of the 10th Mountain Division from Aug. 20 to 22 in Steamboat Springs.
On Tuesday, Kramer and her friend Bonnie Murray, whose father also was in the division, were delicately flipping through the pages of a leather portfolio book, pausing at every page. Black-and-white photos turned their serious gazes into smiles, and newspaper clippings transported them back to the time when their fathers trained vigorously at Camp Hale and served in the U.S. military’s first elite ski unit.
“It’s unbelievable what you can learn from doing this,” Kramer said. “So many of the World War II guys have been mysteries until now. There is a great joy in piecing the history together, but also a great sadness because some of them aren’t here anymore.”
Murray said the men in the division continue to share a special bond, and her friendship with Kramer is just one of many relationships that have resulted from that bond in Colorado. Murray said she was excited to bring her father to Steamboat for the gathering.
“I really like seeing all these guys get together,” Murray said. “It means a lot to see them in this mountain scenery.”
The 10th Mountain Division was formed in 1943 and has deep roots in Colorado mountain communities. The men fought for 114 days in harrowing battles concentrated in Italy. Of the division, 992 members died in combat, and more than 4,000 were injured.
Kramer said she is reminded about the brotherhood among the men by chance meetings all across Steamboat. Her trip to the post office a couple of weeks ago introduced her to another descendant of the division, and she had to convince him the 300 stamps she was buying weren’t for a political campaign.
“I told him I was planning a reunion for the 10th,” Kramer said. “He told me his father was a member.”
Kramer said the upcoming gathering would be a time to honor the veterans, but also to make new friendships among the descendants.
“I have to continue telling this story,” said Kramer. “Some of these guys are more than 90 years old and still skiing.”
She said although gatherings and reunions are common in other places in Colorado such as Denver, she would like to attract descendants and veterans living on the Western Slope. Hugh Evans, a veteran of the division, plans to travel to Steamboat from Boulder for the gathering.
“We enjoy the gatherings, wherever they may be,” Evans said. Evans, 86, said he has made more than 40 trips to the historical hut system in Colorado that was built to honor the men of the 10th Mountain Division. He visited Francie’s hut, which is nestled at an altitude of 11,264 feet in the Arapaho National Forest, last winter and still is an avid skier.
“Every trip to the huts is special because you’re with all of your friends in a cabin,” he said. “We make our own food and melt snow for water. Every trip is different.”
Since the end of World War II, Evans said, he has moved more times than he can remember. He graduated from Colorado School of Mines with a degree in mining management after his military service ended, and he has lived in places spanning from Australia to California. Somehow, he found his way back to the mountains of Colorado.
“I had a strong connection with the mountains during my training for the 10th,” he said. “I’ve always appreciated coming back and experiencing Colorado’s peaks because they are wild and different.”