Memorial Day is next Monday. It will be strange with no local ceremonies to honor military veterans who served in America’s conflicts. All were canceled because of the coronavirus, which can spread in large groups.
People will not gather at the Ketchum and Hailey cemeteries to see the color guards march in. They will not see the flags on each grave honoring those who served their country. No speeches will recount their selfless sacrifice. No 21-gun salute will punctuate the day. The haunting notes of “Taps” will not trail off into crisp mountain air.
Nonetheless, there may be no better time for Americans to remember what our veterans did for us. There is no better place than the mountains around Sun Valley to remember the famous 10th Mountain Division ski troops that fought a nearly impossible battle at Riva Ridge and Mount Belvedere in the Po Valley in Italy in World War II.
The skiers and mountain climbers included several from Sun Valley. In Italy, they came face to face with German forces that held all the high ground in a 108-mile-wide redoubt known as the Gothic Line, Hitler’s last stronghold there.
From towering Riva Ridge, the Nazis could see everything below. With plenty of artillery and ammunition, they could cut down anyone who approached. A 2,500-foot wall of sheer cliffs made them believe that they were unassailable.
In darkness at 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 18, 700 American troops crept to the cliffs and began their assault. It was foggy, snowy and freezing. They carried heavy weapons and gear. Through the night, they climbed the unclimbable to the top and surprised German troops sound asleep in their dugouts.
Then the troops slogged their way up Mount Belvedere for the next five days. Major John Woodward remembered that mountainside this way in a 2010 interview with this newspaper: “The artillery was falling all the time—you had to stay 3 feet underground,” he said. “The Germans were so good that if you stuck your hand out they would fire an 88 [mm] shell at it.”
What the soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division did should inspire us today as we fight an invisible viral killer. Let us remember them and let us know that their courage and resilience live in us still.