Douglas MacArthur’s farewell address to a joint session of Congress in 1951 ended with the now famous line from an old army ballad: “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.”
And while that old adage may be true for many old soldiers, it does not hold true for Cedaredge resident Richard (Dick) Wellington.
Originally a two-room stop on the Denver and Rio Grand Railroad (Pando), located in the Eagle Park Valley of Colorado, Camp Hale (named for Brigadier General Irving Hale) grew to accommodate 16,000 military personnel and nearly 4,000 pack animals. Of those, 14,000 were members of the U.S. Army’s legendary 10th Mountain Division. Dick was one of those men.
The only American Alpine unit to ﬁght in World War II, the men of the 10th Mountain Division were skilled in mountaineering, skiing (alpine and cross-country), rock climbing, winter/mountain survival and combat techniques. The men were destined to become the stuff of legend. Visiting with Dick about the 10th Mountain Division and their role in WWII turned out to be an up-close and personal encounter with history, never to be forgotten.
Born in Caribou, Maine, in 1924, Dick was the younger of two sons born to Linwood and Winifred Wellington. Both boys were avid lifetime skiers. He graduated from Caribou High School prior to enrolling at Northeastern University to begin studies in civil engineering.
But WWII broke out and, at age 19, Dick dropped out of college to enlist in the Army and, via the recruiting efforts of the National Ski Patrol Association, volunteered for the “Ski Troops.” He was accepted and was eventually sent to Camp Hale in January 1943 and assigned to “C” Company, 1st Battalion, 86th Infantry, 10th Division. Dick said they were not given the designation “Mountain” until some time later.
Inspired by his ﬁrst sight of the Colorado mountains, Dick said, “”I could hardly pull myself away from the train window as we traveled on up to Camp Hale.”
According to Dick, based on the German invasion of Norway and the fear of a similar invasion into the mountainous region of the northeast United States, Charles Minot Dole (Minnie Dole), chairman of the National Ski Patrol Association, and others put pressure on the military for the establishment of a unit of soldiers skilled in skiing and trained for mountain/winter warfare.
Dick explained, “Most of the U.S. Army training was conducted in the southern and western states without considering the need to defend the northern and mountainous areas of the country where an invasion was likely to occur.”
Because he was familiar with the technical aspects of rock climbing and the Arlberg technique of alpine skiing, Dick was sent to Cooper Hill as a ski instructor. There, he found himself in the company of “about 30 of some of the most famous skiers in the world.” Not bad for a 19-year-old kid from Caribou, Maine.
After the ski classes ended at Cooper Hill, Dick was sent back to Camp Hale and assigned to the 10th Calvary Troop (aka — the Mountain Training Group), made up entirely of skiing and mountaineering experts from all over the world.
In 1943, he was transferred to Seneca School, W.Va., (a part of the Army’s West Virginia Maneuvers Area), to teach rock climbing and evacuation techniques to the troops stationed there.
In the winter of 1944-45, Dick was deployed to Italy with the 10th Mountain Division. Their objective was to take the three and a half mile Riva Ridge, Mount Belvedere and the adjacent peaks, all of which were occupied by the Germans as observation posts. During a reconnaissance, Dick was wounded and subsequently sent back to the United States for rehab. He was discharged in October 1945. His brother (Duke) also served with the 10th Mountain Division, earning the Silver Star and awarded a battleﬁeld commission.
In 1946 while attending Western State College (Gunnison), Dick met “Bernie,” his wife to be. They were married in June 1947, and have ﬁve children — two boys and three girls.
Dick eventually set up a ski shop at the Western Sport Shop in Gunnison. “But skiing doesn’t generate any revenue,” said Dick so, after graduating, they moved to Pueblo where he worked as an engineer for Colorado Fuel and Iron. From there they moved to Climax to work for the molybdenum mine, and then on to Frisco, where Dick set up shop as a surveyor. Dick sold his surveying company to his son Brad. Now retired, he and Bernie moved to Cedaredge in 1980.
They both got involved with many of the community events — senior citizen’s lunches, Horizons Nursing Home, the Cedaredge Community United Methodist Church. They eventually joined The Apple Valley Players, where Bernie (now deceased) got involved behind the scenes and in costume design and backstage activities, while Dick gained a certain amount of fame as “Dudley Do-Right” in the 1996 production of “The Bedrock Baron,” an original play by local playwright Vernon Harden.
In the fall of 2009, two pioneering ski teams were inducted into Western State College’s (WSC) “Mountaineer Sports Hall of Fame,” for establishing the Western State intercollegiate ski program more than six decades ago. The honor took place during WSC’s 15th annual Mountaineer Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
As one of the founders of the WSC intercollegiate ski program, and a member of both teams inducted into the WSC Hall of Fame, Dick was asked to speak on their behalf. In his acceptance speech, Dick said, “Sixty-three years ago, in 1946, a nondescript group of skiers piled into the car and headed to Sun Valley to compete in their ﬁrst ski meet for WSC.”
He noted, “Without a coach, and sadly lacking the proper equipment and training, they went up against 24 of the larger ski teams in the country.”
Dick noted that the WSC teams competed in all four events. “They stumbled, and bumbled, through the downhill, the slalom, the jumping and cross country
. . . and ended up a proud seventh out of 25 teams.” The following year the WSC team won all but one of the competitive events in the Rocky Mountain Conference, but unfortunately Dick was injured during the ski-jump competition.
He concluded, “So, when you are out on the slopes or on the cross-country ski trail and see an old codger in his eighties skiing up a storm, give him a wave, he might be one of us.”
A certiﬁed “jumping judge and race ofﬁcial,” Dick also taught alpine skiing, cross-country skiing and ski-jumping at Arapahoe Basin for Summit County’s high schoolers. Dick said, “I built a ski jump at the high school and shamed the kids into jumping.”
Dick stopped skiing three years ago, at the age of 83, due to health problems and injuries encountered both on the ski slopes and during the war.
A year ago, as a WWII veteran, Dick took part in the Honor Flight to Washington D.C. — a program to honor America’s veterans for their service to the country.
An avid golfer, Dick (now 86) can be found playing a full round of golf (18 holes) almost every day at the Deer Creek Golf Course. “The oldest player on the golf course,” he laughed.
Fade away? No way!
blog comments powered by Disqus