10th Mountain Division veterans, descendants celebrate history at gathering
Steamboat Springs — On a Saturday evening as the sun began to set, listeners young and old gathered around an individual who had just begun a night full of stories.
Discreetly placed on his blue hat was the valiant symbol of an infantry deeply rooted in Colorado’s history.
Orville Tomky was a veteran and member of an elite World War II armed services unit, the 10th Mountain Division. Trained in skiing, climbing and winter survival, this military group was formed in 1943 of men who became renowned mountaineers, loggers, trappers, skiers and soldiers. Trained on skis in the frigid mountains of Colorado’s Camp Hale, the men were prepared for 114 days of combat in some of Italy’s most rugged terrain. After the war, many of the soldiers sought to establish ties with one another.
“I had never skied or seen the mountains before. I was just a farm boy,” Tomky said, reminiscing about the draft and his decision to join the 10th Mountain Division.
At first, he worked in the hospital and then found that he wanted something more. One of his commanding officers said they were forming the 10th Mountain Division and asked if Tomky wanted to join. He left soon afterward for Camp Hale, the area near Leadville where most of the training took place. It allowed hand-picked division members to train for unique and specific purposes during WWII.
Tomky still remembers learning how to ski and climb for the first time on what now would be described as “primitive equipment.”
“I never got scared or nervous,” he said about his initial thoughts of joining the division. “I wanted to do my duty and try to do it better than anyone else.”
Through the bonds that were formed, the mountains and skiing brought these individuals together and helped to establish a few of Colorado’s renowned ski areas, including resorts such as Aspen, Vail and Arapahoe Basin.
“These were all mountain men who had a love for the mountains and wanted to stay involved in some way,” said Rich Spotts, a descendant who remembers stories his father told him about his time in the 10th Mountain Division.
For members like Spott’s dad, they never missed a reunion. They were connected through a bond along with the countless memories that soon became ingrained in younger generations.
“The guys were so tight knit and carried their friendships and relationships all their lives that we kind of feel like we need to carry on that legacy. That’s why we try to get together,” said Steve Raabe, also a descendant whose father was in the 10th Mountain Division.
During the weekend, members of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the 10th Mountain Infantry Division Descendants hosted a gathering for the veterans like Tomky. The barbecue dinner at the Hogue Ranch allowed descendants to reconnect and visit with old friends.
“There is something special about the Rocky Mountain Chapter,” Spotts said. “I think it’s the fact that a lot of these people are tied to the common bond of the mountains and the passion for mountaineering. This type of reunion is when we can really relive those good times from our youth, as well.”
At the reunion of friends, four generations of the Tomky family attended to keep the history of their family alive and well.
Karen Tomky remembers when all of the descendants would get together for ski trips. The dads were full of vigor and always up for a good time.
“Because so much revolves around the outdoors and these guys started this special tradition, we really want to carry that on,” she said.
It was evident Saturday afternoon that these members young and old were coming together to celebrate that foundation and a responsibility to carry on the legacy of the men now part of Colorado’s history.
“It becomes a fellowship,” said Nancy Kramer, who helped organize the dinner and whose father was a medic in the 10th Mountain Division. “A lot of it is to keep the story in the forefront and to continue to tell that story about their legacy. People may know of the 10th Mountain Division, but they don’t really know about it.”
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