The Exeter Bulletin — Fall 2012
Hugh Evans '43
Keeper of the Legend
The 10th Mountain Division is legendary in the annals of American military history. The unit is best known as the experimental military group that, during World War II, pioneered skiing and survival techniques in Colorado's mountains. Then, in the final days of the war, the division conducted a surprise assault on the virtually impregnable Riva Ridge, a Nazi stronghold in Italy, clearing the way for U.S. forces to break into the Po Valley and forcing the Germans into Italy's Alps where they surrendered on May 2, 1945.
As a veteran of the 10th Division, Hugh Evans '43 is one of the keepers of the unit's heritage. In an interview in 2001, Evans said that he planned to ski until he was 80 years old. Now having reached and exceeded that mark, he intends to ski until he is 90. A lot of his skiing is
done in the Colorado wilderness between the 29 huts linked by some 300 miles of trails managed by the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association. He says of his backcountry treks, "This is how skiing should be."
War came to Evans at Exeter. He remembers, "On Sunday, December 7, 1941, we were just emerging from a meeting of the Christian Society when we heard about the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Before that I was what you might call a moderate pacifist, but at that point I realized the war was just." Evans was inducted into the Army in 1943, right after he graduated, and sent to Camp Hale in Colorado for training.
Evans was no stranger to mountains. He had studied with English Instructor Robert H. "Bob" Bates '29, the adviser to Exeter's Mountaineering Club and a world-renowned mountain climber. In fact, Bates designed much of the equipment Evans and his comrades used during their training and on the battlefield. "We needed three letters of recommendation to qualify for the 10th and Bob Bates wrote one of my three," Evans says. "We were friends until the day he died."
Evans did more than his part to contribute to what would become the heroic reputation of the 10th Division. On February 19, 1945, the night after the capture of Riva Ridge, Evans and units of the 85th and 87th Mountain Infantry Regiments were under intense artillery, mortar and machine-gun fire and surrounded by minefields. During this battle Evans became enraged by a friend's death. "I saw red," he remembers. As a result, he took on an entire field of Germans and single-handedly captured two machine-gun nests and 15 German soldiers. For this act of gallantry, he was awarded the Silver Star.
Two geographic areas are particularly revered by the 10th Division vets and their descendants: the Italian hill villages located on the Po Valley side of the Apennines, where they drove out the Germans, and the 10th Mountain Division Memorial on Tennessee Pass in the Rockies where the 1,000 10th Division members killed during World War II are honored.
"Since 1979 we have been returning to the hill villages every three years," Evans says. "When we go back now our children and our children's children are taken into the schools by the children of our friends in these villages."
His career after the war was in mining. Many former 10th Division soldiers became figures in the then fledgling American ski industry. Some became ski instructors or members of the National Ski Patrol while others went on to open ski resorts including Aspen and Vail. But these men never forgot their training at Camp Hale where they learned to maneuver, survive and fight in the snow and freezing weather.These veterans blazed the trails and built the huts that would become the 10th Mountain Division Hut System. Evans is one of the last 10th Division vets to still pack into these beautiful and peaceful huts.
— Julie Quinn