Steamboat reunion honors 10th Mountain Division |

Steamboat reunion honors 10th Mountain Division

Veterans of World War II gather for event

Wally Barkeen, right, veteran of the 10th Mountain Division, and his daughter Bonnie Murray look through a photo album Friday documenting Barkeen's training for World War II. Veterans of the division and their descendants gathered in Steamboat Springs for a reunion Friday.

Scott Franz

— They trudged through the frigid ice of Camp Hale and held fast while Wally Barkeen dug trenches on Colorado mountainsides during World War II. But Friday night, Barkeen's weathered ski boots were centerpieces on a dinner table in Steamboat Springs.

"Those can't be mine," Barkeen, 98, said to his daughter Bonnie Murray at a reunion honoring the 10th Mountain Division.

After Murray convinced him they really were his ski boots, he reached out and slowly ran his fingers through the grooves where the cable bindings used to be.

"How about that," Barkeen said with a smile.

While Barkeen, a former company commander in the division, was delicately flipping through the pages of a photo album documenting his time in the ski troop, his fellow division veterans Bill Bowes, 87, and Hugh Evans, 86, stood peering down at a table covered with historic newspaper clippings, yellowing photographs and iconic flags.

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Staring at the history, Bowes, a Steamboat resident, was thinking about homemade wooden skis.

"My journey into the world of skiing began during a snowstorm in Salem, Ore., back in 1937," he said as he recounted why he joined the elite ski division.

When 3 feet of snow surrounded his home more than 70 years ago, Bowes was steaming the tips of the wooden skis he and his family made in their basement during the blizzard.

"I dropped all of my other hobbies after that and started looking for rides to the ski areas," he said.

More than 30 people from across Colorado joined the three veterans at the reunion. Friends, descendants and family members of the division swapped stories about their fathers' military service. Nancy Kramer, whose father, Bill Robertson, served as a medic in the division, hosted the gathering and said it was special to see everyone together.

"It's great to see our Denver friends and our Steamboat friends meet," she said. "It's just fantastic."

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 during World War II. Of the division, 992 members died in combat, and more than 4,000 were injured.

Greg Murray, Barkeen's son-in-law, said the 10th Mountain Division license plates he sees constantly in town are just one of the many reminders about the respect and admiration that exists for the division today.

"You ask these people with the division license plates if they had a father or grandfather who served in the 10th, and a lot of them say, 'No, we just want to honor them,'" he said.

Evans, a veteran who came to the reunion from Boulder, is looking forward to the trip he will take this winter to the historical hut system in Colorado that was built to honor the men of the 10th Mountain Division. But Friday, he was enjoying his conversations with fellow veterans and their descendants.

"Being here is very special," he said.

The reunion continues today with a barbecue at the Hogue Ranch in Steamboat where the veterans and their descendants will continue to swap stories and sift through history.