WWII Veteran Shares Inspiring Words To Soldiers
by U.S. Army Mike Strasser, Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs
October 12, 2022
Dozens of 10th Mountain Division (LI)
Soldiers entered the Multipurpose Auditorium on September 29, 2022
to graduate from the Basic Leader Course, but they left with a
little something more.
An appreciation for unit history, a
sense of belonging and a shared bond with those who came before them
– this was the graduation gift from Hilton LaBow, a 10th Mountain
Division World War II veteran.
At 98, LaBow can still
captivate an audience of young Soldiers with stories about what it
was like to train on ridges 13,000 feet high at Camp Hale, Colorado,
and then employ those tactics in the Apennine Mountains of Italy.
Hilton LaBow (98), a 10th Mountain Division World War II veteran, answers questions from Soldiers before the Basic Leader Course graduation
on September 29, 2022 at the Multipurpose Auditorium at Fort Drum. (U.S. Army photo by Mike Strasser, Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs)
LaBow said the infantry training on snow
and rock at Camp Hale was grueling enough, but the altitude was
another challenge for service members – many of whom were elite
athletes. Even the world champion boxer Joe Louis became winded
during a special exhibition bout at camp.
“After two rounds,
he was all tired out,” LaBow mused.
While acclimating to lower oxygen levels, LaBow learned to adapt to
a training environment where temperatures could drop to 20 degrees
“We had good sleeping bags, and you could sleep
even in 30-below (temperatures),” he said. “If you’re smart, you
would put your boots in the outer bag. Otherwise, they would freeze.
But one big advantage at that altitude was that the snow was dry. It
wasn’t wet because there was no moisture, and that helped a lot.”
In late March 1944, the Division Series (D-Series) tested
Soldiers’ ability to conduct combat operations in the mountains.
When they weren’t conducting uphill hikes several hours at a time,
Soldiers struggled with the physical effects of the blizzard
conditions. Absent were the comforts of warm barracks and a hot meal
to look forward to.
The three-week maneuvers were so arduous
that many veterans said that they experienced less hardship in the
war compared to the D-Series.
“It was hard training,” LaBow
said. “But in the D-Series, your biggest problem was just staying
But it prepared LaBow, who was assigned to E Company,
85th Mountain Infantry Regiment, for the combat he experienced in
Italy. He spoke proudly of the division’s nighttime attack on Riva
Ridge and Mount Belvedere, where Soldiers made the climb without
ammunition in their rifles to avoid accidental firing that would
alert the enemy.
“They didn’t want anyone to fire a shot, so
we had bayonets,” he said. “Didn’t want to warn them. And we never
lost a position in a counterattack. That’s a pretty good record. And
we kept going so they couldn’t reorganize. That was the whole point
– keep moving.”
The division commander, Maj. Gen. George P.
Hays, issued that directive to the troops earlier when he said,
“Never stop. Always forward.”
“Retreat was not in his
vocabulary,” LaBow said. “I was a good shot, so that helped a lot.
Whatever weapon we were using, there was a lot of practice to be a
LaBow was shot in his left leg and was severely
injured during the Po Valley campaign. The trajectory of the bullet
was such that it moved upward and stopped short of his lower spine.
“The war was over for me then,” he said. “The bullet was a
quarter inch away from my spine. That was lucky. It was a full-time
job just staying alive.”
LaBow has spoken with 10th Mountain
Division (LI) Soldiers on post at different occasions, but this was
the first time he has participated in an NCOA graduation.
am proud of all you guys,” he said. “You are part of the 1 percent
of the population who will do what you are doing – to keep everybody
free. I congratulate all of you guys because you work hard to get
where you are.”
During the Basic Leader Course graduation
ceremony, LaBow shared the stage with the 10th Mountain Division
(LI) Noncommissioned Officer Academy command team, to congratulate
the future of the NCO Corps.
“You guys are pretty
important,” he told the graduates. “It makes it a lot easier for the
officers if they’ve got a good bunch of noncoms. It makes a
Master Sgt. Daniel Fields, deputy commandant of
the Command Sgt. Maj. Southern “Buddy” Hewitt Noncommissioned
Officer Academy, invited LaBow to speak to the graduating class to
impress upon them how their unit history binds them together.
“One of the original mottos of the 10th Mountain Division was
‘Semper Avanti,’ which translates to ‘Always Forward,’” said Fields.
“As history tends to repeat itself, I think it’s important to
understand that in order to be successful in the future, we must
fully understand our past. Mr. LaBow is an intrinsic link to our
Whenever Fields sees a Soldier reading 10th Mountain
Division history or looking at display cases at the NCOA, Clark Hall
or Hays Hall, he is interested to hear their thoughts.
displays are there as a reminder of where we came from, of those who
came before us,” he said. “I use them as prompts to ask the Soldier
questions to guide them to a better understanding of our division’s
Fields had the opportunity to provide LaBow a tour
of the NCOA after the graduation ceremony. The World War II veteran
held a pair of boots and crampons similar to what he wore nearly 80
years ago and marveled at the copy of Life magazine he had never
seen before, which featured a military mountaineer on the cover.
“It was an absolute honor to have the opportunity to host Mr.
LaBow at the academy,” Fields said. “We discussed equipment used by
our Alpine Warriors then and now and how relatively little that
equipment has changed since it was originally developed by our
mountaineer forebears at Camp Hale 80 years ago. We look forward to
hosting him as our guest of honor on a more regular basis to tell
his story to as many leaders as possible.”
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