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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Tom Bacher: The Germans did not expect anyone to come across the river with no bridge or the ability to have heavy artillery support. We were very much surprised to be crossing the river right now.

Bud Phillipsen Actor VO: My darling, you probably read how our division spearheaded the attack all the way. I was in command of the first platoon in the whole 5th Army to cross the Po. 14 men to a boat, lots of machine gun fire and artillery. Two more days and nights and we were across the valley into the Alps.

NARRATOR: 2nd Lieutenant Bud Phillipsen

John: It was a sleepless time. During the next 7 days, we got all the way across the Po Valley, marching 80 miles in 7 days. To go across the whole Po Valley against opposition was a remarkable achievement.

NARRATOR: The invincible German Army begins to yield: over 10,000 soldiers surrender in ever-increasing numbers. Once again headed to the mountains, the 10th is in its element as it struggled to seal off German escape routes. With rugged mountains rising from the shores of Lake Garda, the Germans prepared a fanatic defense, using a series of tunnels through the steep slopes. Every approach was treacherous: there was no easy way over them, around them or through them.

John: As the American soldiers of the 86th Regiment were going through the tunnel, the Germans had a lucky hit with an 88 shell that exploded and there were a large number of casualties of Americans that were killed and wounded in that tunnel. Earlier that same day, the Germans had tried to blow that tunnel up, but people who made their demolitions made a mess of the job and instead they killed their own men and a number of horses.

Bob Krear: We went thru there and they lying there, all blown apart, their uniforms were smoking still. It was the tunnel of the dead alright‹all German dead. Frankly if it hadn¹t have been them, it would have been us.

Narrator: To skirt the deadly tunnels, amphibious trucks known as DUKWs were brought in. As a storm blew in, a heavily loaded DUKW capsized and sank: 25 drowned, 1 survived.

Dave Rankine: That was the most horrible thing I saw during the war. I saw them loading them, and I was about the 3rd one. 2 more guys had gone, I¹d have been on, and I¹d have gone down with them. And we stood here with our mouths open, a lot of the guys in tears. We knew what had happened and we knew those guys didn¹t have a prayer.

Narrator: Along Lake Garda¹s shore, the rich and powerful had long sought refuge.

Bob Yank: Somebody told our platoon to go down and take over this villa-it turned out to be Mussolini¹s northern headquarters. We all took turns sleeping in Mussolini¹s bed.

Narrator: Only days earlier, dictator Benito Mussolini left his lakeside villa, only to be murdered by his countrymen. Hitler¹s suicide on April 30th left no doubt the war¹s end was near. But some soldiers from the 10th would not live to see it: a stray bomb left a horrific trail.

NARRATOR: From the diary of Sgt. Harris Dusenbery.

Sgt Harris Dusenbery Actor VO: We switched back down the mountainside and passed the spot where what was left of the bodies lay. Blood and bits of bone and flesh and shreds of clothing lay scattered over the ground. Along the trail there was a gunnysack of arms and legs with the grisly ends sticking out. This is the thing that gnaws at your heart. Yet in war we have had been hardened. Without a tear we hurried on to get by this awful spot, silently thankful that it had not been our time to die.

Narrator: Sgt Harris Dusenbery

4/20-5/2/1945 Text: 154 KIA; 684 WIA; 839 Casualties; 1 POW


NARRATOR: By May 7th a weary world celebrates victory and peace. All German forces surrender, their mighty army reduced to stragglers and survivors.

Flint: As the war came to an end, and the German troops were surrendering in Northern Italy, many of the enemy wanted to surrender to the 10th Mountain.

BILL SPEIRS: They declared the end of it and I thanked God. I was so grateful it was over.

Bob Krear: We couldn¹t believe it! It took a while for it to sink in. It was an overwhelming feeling actually.

NARRATOR: But the 10th finds itself at the birth of another war, The Cold War, as Yugoslavian strongman Marshall Tito makes a dramatic land grab.

Tom Brooks: The United States & Great Britain weren¹t going to have any part of that. We went there at the very beginning of this. And the Yugos had moved into some of that mountainous territory up there.

MAP #6 at 46:45 showing Italy-Yugo border with shades for troops noted

NARRATOR: Only a small number of senior commanders realized how close we came to a bloody shooting war with the Yugoslavs. Tito¹s troops and an assortment of partisans patrolled one bank of the Isonso River. Allied Forces‹including the 10th, patrolled the other bank, never knowing what or who to expect.

Karl Stingl: We had those young guards-they might have been 12 years old. And they had rifles. You never know what in the world they were going to do.

Tom Brooks: There was a real sense that fighting was possible. There were moments that were real nervousmaking for the 10th.

NARRATOR: It was decades before it was clear how the changing balance of power shaped the future. Though the Cold War would escalate for decades, time quickly ran out for the 10th. By mid-July they were ordered to prepare for a dreaded invasion of Japan¹s mountains. But the Hiroshima & Nagasaki atomic bombings-and Japan¹s subsequent surrender, changed everything. The 10th went home-and stayed home.

Flint: There was no one division that won WW2 for the Allies. But everyone working together as a team created the ultimate victory.

Tom Brooks: The 10th in a sense was sitting on the shoulders of a lot of other outfits who had done one hell of a job.

Flint: When the 10th was inserted it tipped the balance in the Allies favor in Italy.

NARRATOR: Their victory came at a cost: the 10th suffered one of the highest casualty rates of any division in the Army.

Text: 10th Mountain Division Casualties in Italy: 4866 Casualties: 975 deaths; 3871 WIA

NARRATOR: After 4 years of training, and just 4 months in battle, the 10th is without a role and deactivated, only returning years later with new Cold War responsibilities. Post-war, members of the 10th continued to innovate. They put their love of the outdoors and their ski training to work, creating the U.S. ski industry.

FLINT: There was probably not a ski resort in the entire country that wasn¹t touched in some way by the 10th Mtn division.

Moni Wuerslin: What tied us together was a love for the outdoors, for the mountains. The people I was with were the best I the world. I wanted to be with them then‹and in the future.

Ken MacDonald: We were tough. We were disciplined I think. And it¹s a hard word to use but we were gentlemen-these were good guys.

Hugh Evans: That 2 _ years of my 78 years on earth was probably the most important in terms of finding myself, and building very special relationships and actually doing something that I felt was really vital.

SUPER: Ed Burda: I gauged my war experiences in matters of feet and seconds. You never knew from moment to moment if you would survive.

Bob Yank: The older you get, you realize how important it was in your life--as long as you survived.

Bill Speirs: I was little, I was scared and I could duck a bullet!

Narrator: Six decades after World War Two, the 10th identity is deeply rooted in their character. Under considerably better conditions than 1945, 10th veterans often return to Italy with their descendents, fostering a mutual affection with the Italians that bridges cultural and generation gaps.

Nate Morrell: It¹s 2nd and 3rd generation now, but they know the stories, they know what was done. And they appreciate the American soldier.

SUPER: ³Former 10th Commander Major General Lloyd Austin III² We¹re still called to do the near impossible. If you¹re operating at 9000 feet in the mountains of Afghanistan chasing some pretty rugged fighters being able to go where others don¹t is pretty important.

NARRATOR: A spirit reaches across time and space between original and modern 10th soldiers. On the parade ground or in hospital wards, the 10th vets reach out to current soldiers.

SGT KENYON CONLEY: I think the stories they tell us, the wisdom they give us, and the encouragement that they give us, to keep going and move on no matter what.

JEFFREY WOOD SOT: These guys are the ones that led the way.

BOB O¹MALLEY: It¹s you guys now.

SGT DUSTIN DIXON: They¹ve kind of paved the way for us. They¹ve shown us the standard that we need to live by.

SGT ANDREW BUCHANAN: Talking to them has made me a better soldier. I¹ve learned actually quite a bit. Just the fact that even though the two generations are so different, but it still boils down to the fact to people are still willing to step up to the plate.

SUPER: Major Paul Wille: There¹s nobody else like the 10th Mountain Division‹there¹s no other mountain infantry division. With the heritage, it is a real sense of pride.

Jim Barr: This was a unique division: there never was one like it before and there never will be one like it again.

Bob Krear, 86-L: A lot of the men in the 10th are still skiing, still snowshoeing like me. We still love mountains. The mountains keep us young.

:06 Text Page: In honor of all 10th soldiers, past and present.

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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.