Capsule History of Breckenridge, the 10th Mountain Division and FDR
By Kathy Manney
Franklin D. Roosevelt began his 3rd term as President of the United States January 20, 1941, making him the only president to be elected for three terms. He served during both the Great Depression and World War II. During World War II, the United States Army’s 10th Mountain Division trained between 1941 and 1945 by executive order from President Franklin Roosevelt.
Before the ski resort developers arrived Breckenridge, was a small mining town with dusty streets rusty implements sticking from the ground. The elected Summit County sheriff was sole county law enforcer. If he needed backup, his grown sons were sworn in as temporary deputies. The former mining community had been in decline for some time. Little could Breckenridge inhabitants imagine the upscale ski resort and condos that was to come.
During World War II the United States Army’s 10th Mountain Division trained in the mountains near here, that winter training lead to their victories in the Alps Mountains. The army chose a site at 9,300 feet altitude and named it Camp Hale. Trails were cut and the longest T-Bar in the country installed. Built in 1942, Camp Hale was decommissioned in 1945.
The men who prepared here went through challenging training before being sent overseas where the 10th Mountain Division penetrated a purportedly unconquerable area in the Apennines, thus playing a vital role in the liberation of northern Italy. When the Germans surrendered in May 1945, 996 ski troopers had lost their lives and nearly 4,000 were wounded, making this was the highest casualty rate of any U.S. division in the Mediterranean.
After the War it was the 10th Mountain Division soldiers who helped drive the evolution of recreational skiing in Colorado and Camp Hale was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Breckenridge 10th Mountain Division Memorial is in Riverfront Park in Breckenridge and dedicated to the mountaineers who fought and died leading the allied drive to push the German Army out of Italy during World War II.
Perhaps the chronicles of the 10th Mountain ski troops contributed more to the legitimacy of ski mountaineering in the United States than any other event. Soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division became true war heroes. There was one Medal of Honor, three Distinguished Service Crosses, one Distinguished Service Metal, 449 Silver Star Metals, seven Legion of Merit metals, 15 Soldier’s Metals and 7,729 Bronze Star Metals. The division itself was awarded two campaign streamers.
A new 10th Mountain Division was organized at Camp Drum, New York in 1985, but the original “10th” is memorialized in Colorado where Oliver North filmed a segment of his “War Stories” about the 10th Mountain Division on the Colorado slopes.
Breckenridge has become one of the most popular destination ski resorts in the world attracting more than 1.5 million skiers a year. With a wide variety of film, music, theatre, and arts and crafts related events as well as the outdoor activities that the Rocky Mountains have to offer besides skiing, Breckenridge is a true year round destination.
Main Street boasts a row of western facades from the 1800’s that now house upscale boutiques and trendy eateries. Breckenridge Starbuck’s is at the highest elevation of any other Starbuck store. Development infused an interest in historic preservation. Pictures of some of town’s forefathers are featured in various display cabinets depicting the community’s past.
Consequently, without an executive order from President Franklin Roosevelt and the men of 10th Mountain Division return to Colorado after the War, Colorado towns like Breckenridge most likely would have followed the path of hundreds of other former western mining towns that are today vacant ghost towns.
Like most writers, Kathy’s life experience have made their way into her writing. She is a free-lance writer of published essays, articles in a variety of magazines newspapers. Her monthly travel column highlights experiences off the beaten path.