In 1943, an 18-year-old from Keene Valley, New York, upon being
drafted into World War II service decided to do something different
... something new for that time.
His decision to apply to be
an Army ski trooper and his service in Italy would change the life
of Charles W. Smith, but forever change the Army.
was a private first class assigned to 3rd Platoon, I Company, 85th
Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division, traveled to Fort Drum
Sept. 25, 2015 to simply spend time in a place where old memories
still run through his head as vividly as yesterday's news, and a
short photo opportunity in front of the Military Mountaineers statue
in Fort Drum's Memorial Park in the very same uniform he was issued
in 1945 seemed to diminish the wrinkles and years away from his face
as she smiled.
The last time he and his daughters had
visited Fort Drum, the statue was near Mount Belvedere gate he
recalled. Though the new location near the headquarters building,
named after his division commander, Maj. Gen. George Price Hays, who
commanded the division from 1944, was fitting. Smith recalled the
speech he gave them before they made their assault up Mount
World War II veteran Charles Smith (91), who was one of the original Ski Troopers in the 85th Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division (U.S. Army) visiting Fort Drum on Sept. 25, 2015.
Smith is a Bronze Star and Purple Heart medals recipient, who fought
in Italy in 1945 throughout Riva Ridge, Mount Belvedere and Po
Valley ... On the left he stands in front of the Military Mountaineers statue at Fort Drum's Memorial Park.
On the right he takes a quiet moment at Division Hill, thinking back
to his time on then Camp Drum. (Image created by USA Patriotism!
from photos by U.S. Army photo by Master Sgt. Kap Kim, 10th Mountain
“It would be a night attack, and we were only to use
fixed bayonets and grenades,” he said. “No firing of ammo
even though we had to carry it.”
During his tour
throughout Fort Drum, he and his family recognized the
various Italian street names dedicated to honor those who
fought gallantly throughout Italy.
Ridge,” said his daughter, Darlene Gero.
She and her
sister, Brenda Smith, both had grown up hearing about his
At the Heritage Center, they met with Kent
Bolke, the museum curator, and got a chance to walk down
memory lane has he got to see some the ski equipment he had
used. Before he left, he donated a coat he was issued at the
end of the war. It had only been worn once he said. It was
in such great condition that the only indication of its age
was by the World War II-era 10th Mountain Division patch
hand stitched on the left shoulder.
When he arrived
to the 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade
Combat Team, he was delighted and overcome with a special
connection with those infantrymen though he was more than 70
years their senior in some cases.
“I just couldn't
believe how young they were,” he said.
He spent most
the time at 4-31st with Staff Sgt. Stephen Penny at a framed
print of the 10th Mountain Division history running through
the timeline and the Mountain Rifleman's Field Load list and
The Soldiers there all thanked him for
everything he did to help shape their lineage today.
He had been in their boots more than 70 years ago when he left
New York for then Camp Hale, Colorado, and started his basic
training with the 86th Regiment. The newly-formed ski troopers
trained in the high-altitude Colorado mountains.
Brig. Gen. Diana Holland (left) and Command Sgt. Maj. Ray Lewis pose for a photo with Charles W. Smith at the 10th Mountain Division Headquarters. Smith, who was one of the original Ski Troopers in the 85th Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division, came to visit Fort Drum with his family Sept. 25, 2015. The 91-year-old is a World War II vet, Bronze Star and Purple Heart medals recipient. He fought in Italy in 1945 throughout Riva Ridge, Mount Belvedere and Po Valley. (U.S. Army photo by Master Sgt. Kap Kim, 10th Mountain Division)
“Charlie,” as he was referred to, grew up skiing and
snowshoeing throughout the harsh upstate New York winters,
but the 90-pound packs on his equal frame and the negative
40-below weather proved to be tougher than he could ever
imagine, but the worst was yet to come as he embarked on the
trip to Europe that eventually led to the Italian Alps.
It was months before Japan's surrender and without an
end in sight, the ski troopers pushed up through mountain
ranges such as Riva Ridge and Mount Belvedere like they did
at Camp Hale. During months of intense fighting up the
mountains, Smith endured countless friends' deaths and
sustained injuries himself in which he earned a Purple Heart
Medal. Though he never left combat. His shrapnel injury to
his hip was bandaged up and he continued on fighting for
several more months.
“On Feb. 19, , we made
our assault up Belvedere,” he recounted. “The snow was
almost gone by now and the mountain was ... well mined with
trip wires. We had to follow one behind the other about 10
feet apart. There were many empty shell holes. We had to
keep counting how many men we still had due to casualties
from exploding mines.”
Faced with mines, enemy
snipers and machine gun nests, he and his unit continued to
fight taking on the highest casualty count for their size
and stint in combat with 992 killed in action and
approximately 4,000 wounded.
“I was lucky, I
suppose,” he said.
When the war was finally over in
Italy on May 2, 1945, Smith and his outfit were at the base
of the Italian Alps. They had fought 20 continuous days and
advanced 120 miles.
Smith and his regiment left Italy
and were due to go back home before going to Japan; however,
while at home on leave, news of the atomic bomb and the
subsequent surrender that ended the war also soon ended
Smith's Army service.
Though he never finished high
school, Smith came home from the war and settled back home
where he worked several odd jobs before he became a
carpenter and worked at Plattsburgh Air Force Base, New
York. In 1947, he met his wife, Roberta Loiusa Manley, who
served in the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps. The two had
three children and had been married for more than 60 years
before she passed in 2008.
Through the years, Smith
has attended many different 10th Mountain Division
Association reunions and has kept in contact with many of
the original members of the original ski troopers from his
regiment. In 2012, Smith traveled to Italy during an
association reunion and got to travel around the same
battlefields he had in 1945.
Smith is still going
strong into his 90s and, during his meeting with 10th
Mountain Division Brig. Gens. Andrew Rohling and Diana
Holland and Command Sgt. Maj. R. Ray Lewis, they all
marveled at how Smith still fit into his originally-issued
olive drab uniform.
“I hope I can still fit into my
uniform at your age,” joked Lewis.
The family hopes
that Smith will be around many more years to be able to
travel back to more reunions and to the only other home he's
come to know: Fort Drum, the home of the 10th Mountain
By U.S. Army Master Sgt. Kap Kim
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