THE LAST RIDGE - The Inspiring Story of the 10th Mountain Division, A Compelling PBS Documentary Based on the Book by McKay Jenkins
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SUPER: Dillon Snell: They would keep track of each other¹s sons. And they were good support for each other, but it must have been very difficult for them to hear the stories and then wonder how their son is doing. News didn¹t travel; it took probly two weeks to get information back.

STUART ABBOTT Actor VO: Dear Mother, I must admit that I had never really been homesick until I got over here. There are times now when I get so blue it just hurts to think of home. I am living for the day when I can curl up in an easy chair with a good book and an entire pan of hot buttered popcorn.

NARRATOR: Private First Class Stuart Abbott.

19:53

NARRATOR: In Italy, with Riva Ridge barely held, the 10th drop their packs, and start up Belvedere with unusual attack orders: fixed bayonets and unloaded weapons.

SUPER: Jim Barr: I didn¹t like it and I don¹t think many of the guys did. But the general knew that if we did fire them, the flash would give away our position and we would be in worse shape than if we didn¹t do it. For all practical purposes we were soundless.

NARRATOR: ³From the diary of Dan Kennerly²

Dan Kennerly Actor VO: Sometime after midnight, the sound of a burp gun, a German pistol came from the 3rd battalion area on our left flank. Now the Germans know we¹re here. A chill is running up my spine.

NARRATOR: 10th was stepping into deadly artillery fire and minefields the Germans had been preparing for months.

SUPER Ray Farley: No one knows unless you¹re there, the sound of 88 artillery shells coming in, and the speed and the power and the noise. One of the things you had to do was keep moving forward.

SUPER Bob Parker: You fire at the enemy but you can¹t see them because it¹s black. You stumble over barbed wire. All you know is you try and do the things that you¹re supposed to do. And then the rest is chance.

Newc Eldredge: I had to go thru a couple of minefields and I hit this trip wire. And so I whispered ³Mine!² I could hear the click and nothing happened.

NARRATOR: Fate intervened, that mine was frozen shut. But the soldiers in his footsteps weren¹t as lucky.

Newc Eldredge: I could hear voices that I knew they were in those minefields. And then when the Germans started lobbing in all that mortar fire, the men began to run. You could recognize the screams-that was really unnerving.

SUPER: Ken MacDonald: We suddenly came under tremendous mortar fire. And I looked back down the hill where we had come up and everybody was dead or wounded. It¹s true then you¹re pretty brave at the start. Because you don¹t know the consequences.

Ray Farley: Every day that you¹re in actual combat you know that before you go out that day, that night or that mission that all of you aren¹t coming back. You just know that. It¹s part of the deal. You know that the longer you¹re there the more likely you are. You maybe next.

NARRATOR: As soldiers struggled up the mountain beyond Belvedere, Hugh Evans took on an entire field of Germans alone, in a remarkable burst fueled by the anger of a friend¹s death.

Hugh Evans: The Germans gave up. They stood up in their holes and surrendered. That whole hill was standing up. And I realized what an idiot I was.

23:57

Letter Read by Hugh: This old infantry really gets stuff thrown at it. And don¹t think we aren¹t scared. It¹s over now though, and it will be just one black spot on my mind. I just keep wondering how many black spots there are going to be before this damn war will be over.

NARRATOR: Sergeant Hugh Evans.

NARRATOR: Evans was awarded the Silver Star for capturing 2 machine guns nests, killing 5 Germans in the process.

24:31

NARRATOR: While soldiers endured chaos on the battlefront, the homefront could only brace for the worst.

Ben Duke Actor VO: Dear Mrs. Abbott, This is my first opportunity to offer you my deepest sympathy for the loss of your son, Stuart Abbott. The terrain we had to cover was rough and the enemy positions good-it was a difficult task. There was no braver or finer man on the hill that day. I sincerely believe that he never knew what struck him. But those who die, die knowing that they will never be forgotten, and they did not die in vain. Most Sincerely Yours, Sergeant Ben Duke, Jr.

NARRATOR: The final‹and crucial assault lay ahead on Mount della Torraccia. Bloodier than the original attack, one battalion runs out of ammo‹and is replaced. Amidst fierce counterattacks, another battalion takes heavy casualties ­ and eventually the mountain.

John Imbrie: The Germans threw their most furious counterattack at Mt. Della Torraccia. Thousands of rounds came in a short period. Huge artillery bombardments. Our troops barely were able to withstand that attack.

SUPER: Stu Elkind: That was a major counterattack, and they really wanted to take that mountain back.

Stu Elkind: And when we finally got to the top ­ and it was hard fighting all the way, they had a very fierce counterattack, preceded by a fierce artillery barrage. They were extremely intent on holding that position.

SUPER: Charles Murphy: We did not realize what an advantage the Germans had until we made it to the top.

Charles Murphy: There were 36 people in the platoon and 6 people made it.

Dillon Snell: When they took Della Torracia, which was the last mountain in the Mount Belvedere complex, my platoon was ordered to go forward and occupy a farmhouse 300 yards ahead of the lines. Lots of Germans, lots of firing. They wanted our little outpost because it would have been an outpost for them also. And it was kind of us versus them, and it was pretty isolated, pretty scary. I think I was 19 years old and I was the acting platoon leader. We were told to hold it period.

NARRATOR: For five days, the Germans tried to drive the 10th from this important position. Instead the assaulting German Mountain troops were driven back with heavy losses.

John Imbrie: The men were determined and they beat back the counterattack. And that was the end of the German thrust on the Mt. Belvedere ridge. That was the decisive battle that then determined the future of the entire campaign.

28:33

Narrator: The battle was over, and the stage was set for an offensive to reclaim the rest of Italy.

Text: January 6-March 2, 1945; 1085 Casualties. 237 KIA. 836 Wounded. 12 POW.

Dave Rankine: Every time we had to take a hill we had to go uphill into the enemy fire. But we had one big advantage. We had the artillery back there.

NARRATOR: Artillery was critical-often the deciding factor.

Flint: It¹s interesting to look at the German and American weaponry. The Germans had better armor, better tanks. The artillery was also I would say tilted to the Germans. They had the gun called the 88 that was originally developed as an anti-aircraft weapon. But it was such a devastating weapon when used as a direct fire weapons. The Americans learned to really hate and fear the German 88.

29:54

NARRATION: The 10th defied German firepower, their rapid success surprising commanders on both sides. The Germans would not be surprised again. They struggled to re-capture key roads. Unrelenting shelling reduced towns to rubble. Critical bridges were repeatedly built‹and blown.

30:23

John: We had trouble right away. There was a series of small mountains in a complex terrain. On the very first day, the famous ski trooper Torger Tokle was killed. And many others were killed fighting for small towns and for small villages.

NARRATOR: The 10th spread out and pressed forward-always forward, in the first of many long days to come.

Bob Thompson: The most moving thing happened to me was that we came on a little farmhouse and barn and there was a German ammunition cart and a horse in there. I took a hand grenade and pulled the pin. Just as I approached the door, the door opened and the house was packed with civilians from the town we were going to take. And I came so close to throwing that hand grenade in there. That¹s kind of haunted me to tell you the truth‹just how close I came to killing all those people.

NARRATION: As the day wore on, Riva Ridge¹s leader, Colonel Hampton was wounded in Sassomolare, a quaint town whose beauty masked the danger.

Bob Thompson: There was a machine gun in this church steeple. And there¹s kind of a wall half way up that hill. And every once in a while I¹d do the old trick where I¹d put my helmet up over the wall and the machine gun would open up. So we were pinned down there for sure.

NARRATOR: But even as the 10th prevailed-they did so at great cost.

32:35

Denis Nunan Actor VO: So you see mother, Daddy, in my short time in combat, my heart has hardened and my soul grown bitter. I have killed, and I shall continue to do such without flinching until peace comes to the world or me. I shall destroy whatever the enemy hides behind. But there will always be room in my heart to feel for those that have suffered‹still room in my heart for those dreams of romance and legends that have enveloped these foreign lands in days gone by. Yes, I¹ll destroy and be bitter, but I¹ll also dream and love. Private First Class Denis Nunan.

Text: March Offensive & Consolidation: 1012 Casualties; 214 KIA; 794 Wounded; 3 POW

NARRATOR: As spring unfolds, the Allies plan a massive offensive. This is the Big Push, setting Italy ablaze from coast to coast. Soldiers know if they succeed, the door to the Germany is open. Fail, and the war in Italy may never end. 34:15

Flint: The 10th Mountain Division found out the importance of air support. Air support is almost as devastating as artillery. It comes out of the sky and you can¹t run from it. I mean if you¹re in the open, you¹re probably going to get hit.

NARRATOR: Full air support leads the way. On April 14th, reeling from the recent death of beloved President Roosevelt, the 10th attacks enemy positions across the valley on 3 steep hills nearly a thousand feet each.

John Imbrie: It was a furious bombardment that lasted more than one hour. Everyone thought that would finish the Germans, but when we went forward, we soon discovered the Germans had just hunkered down and were ready for us. The Germans knew exactly what we were going to do.

NARRATOR: Surrounded by hell on earth, 10th soldiers tried to move ahead.

Newc Eldredge: The place looked like it was on fire. Just the artillery-how can anybody survive? The next thing we know the machine guns just open up‹they¹re crossfiring. I can just remember going up in the air and coming down and down. The next time I get up I¹m hit. Wales Kennedy comes over and he said Newc are you dead? And I said I don¹t think so.

NARRATOR: But his ordeal was far from over.

Newc Eldredge: We get to a Command Post. We bang on the door and they won¹t let us in. One of the officers said you¹re going to bleed all over our maps. I think this was probly the most bitter moment I ever had.

NARRATOR: In the fury of battle, civilians pay the price. Farms destroyed, livestock killed, churches bombed.

Ken MacDonald Actor VO: Dear Elinor, The mountains are majestic and fierce and snow covered. There is an appalling contrast to death, injury, noise, fear, cold & hunger. Almost every town in Italy has been destroyed, at least in part.

NARRATOR: Private First Class Ken MacDonald.

Bob Yank: We were getting pounded by mortars and artillery. We finally got to the top and dug in, they had this whole area zeroed in with 88s from the tanks they just scream in, psychologically tough they¹re really to handle. Out of our original 42 there was only 11 of us that came back up.

NARRATOR: On Hill 909, a vital mission to remove German observers struggled. A quiet and gutsy 20-year old squad leader, John Magrath saw the enemy¹s machine gun nests and took matters into his own hands.

SUPER: Tom Brooks: He stepped into one of them & his rifle jammed. So he picked up a German machine gun and went after 2 or 3 machinegun nests & knocked out 4 or 5 of them.

NARRATOR: Magrath then went out to get situation reports.

Tom Brooks: He¹d done the job and was coming back over an open field and a shell came in and killed him.

NARRATOR: John Magrath¹s courage under fire allowed the hill to be taken and earned him the only Congressional Medal of Honor in the 10th. But the Germans still held the high ground nearby, the prominent Rocca Ruffino. Amidst intense barrages, the 10th captured the imposing mountain-and met their match: the medieval village of Torre Iussi.

John: Torre Iussi was a difficult objective because it was a small village of perhaps a dozen houses situated on curving roads, and a tangle of hills and tiny roads that are difficult to attack. The next couple days there were furious battles all over the place. They were not giving up by a long shot.

NARRATOR: The 10th open a breach the Germans can¹t close. The 10th rush towards the prized Po Valley Šrush towards the AlpsŠrush towards Germany.

4/14-4/20/1945 Po Valley Text: 370 KIA; 1448 WIA; 1821 Casualties; 3 POW

Stu Elkind, 86-K: Once we got past the Apennines, it was just a matter of chasing the Germans. It was who could run fastest. Whether you could you run faster backwards or could you run faster forward? And it ended up you could run faster forward.

NARRATOR: The German command was in chaos. Rumor had the Germans fleeing to a fabled fortress in the Alps where they could hold out indefinitely.

John: The Germans were planning to get across the Po Valley and get back up into Austria.

NARRATOR: The Germans are just as dangerous in retreat, leaving a deadly trail of destruction to slow the Allies. The 10th is leading the 5th Army, so far ahead of the lines at times they surrounded by Germans.

Moni Wuerslin: One or two times I think we were trucked. But most of the time we were marching. And we didn¹t stop until we got right to the river.

NARRATOR: As the 10th approached the Po River, the Germans were swimming to the far bank. Then the shelling began.

Ray Farley: They really pounded us on the south bank of the river where we were waiting for the boats to come up. Certainly was several hours.

Tom Bacher: Hell if anyone said they weren¹t scared they must have been a bank robber or something.

John: The Po River is a substantial barrier. To cross that river in paddle boats while the enemy is firing at you from the far bank is not an easy task.

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Abbie Kealy, 5316 Glen Falls, Reisterstown, MD 21136
(443) 570- 9482 | E-mail: AbbieKealy@hotmail.com

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Outreach, Promotion and Development for The Last Ridge have been made possible by the R.C. Baker Foundation, honoring the extraordinary legacy of World War II veterans.