Telluride 4th Of July: 10th Mountain Division

[click “Play” to hear Beth & George Gage on “Fire on the Mountain”]

Men of the 10th Mountain Division here for July 4 and Telluride Mountainfilm benefit showing of “Fire on the Mountain”

10thMtDivPoster-nwm Telluride began celebrating the Fourth of July in the 1880s, about 100 years after Congress the day Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

The party got way out of control some time in the early 1970s, and Telluride cancelled the Fourth of July party until further notice. When the holiday was reinstated on the summer calendar a year or two later, the main event was a BBQ and fireworks sponsored by the Fire Department. Period.

In late 1980s, the Fourth of July parade was returned to its past glory, with almost everyone in town taking part, leaving only tourists as spectators.

On the Fourth of July, people tend to put red state/blue state issues aside and, per F. Scott Fitzgerald, “stand at moral attention,” saluting the Stars and Stripes as one nation. On that day, towns like Telluride across the country honor the young men and women who put on uniforms, boarded trains and planes and promised their families they would return – knowing full well they might not be back at all. And who knows that better than the intrepid men of the 10th Mountain Division, America’s only infantry division formed as a result of a sport: skiing.

Recruited by the National Ski Patrol and united by its love of the mountains, the division lured America’s best skiers, mountaineers and outdoorsmen, as well as European athletes fleeing Hitler. The Army wanted its elite mountain troops to be prepared for everything, but never having had mountain troops before, no one was sure what “everything” meant.

Basic training for the 10th included skiing, snow-shoeing, rock and ice climbing, dog mushing, igloo building, avalanche safety, bushwhacking and trail-breaking. Snowmobiles, mummy sleeping bags, nylon climbing ropes, and Vibram soles on climbing boots were all invented for the 10th.

When it was all said and done, the 10th lost 992 men and suffered over 4,000 casualties, but as one of the 10th, General John Hay, famously said: “We fought a war the way you should fight it. We came in late, fought like hell, the enemy  surrendered…and we went home.”

Words like those hang in the air like smoke after a fire in light of Iraq.

Move over Men Without Rhythm. This year, Telluride is honored to welcome past and present members of the 10th Mountain Division to march alongside other veterans of war in our town’s Fourth of July parade. (Meet them at Mountainfilm’s hospitality center on the NE corner of Colorado and Fir.)

George & Beth headshot On Monday, July 6, George and Beth Gage’s award-winning documentary, “Fire on the Mountain,” about the 10th Mountain Division, is the highlight of Mountainfilm’s summer fundraiser, 6 p.m., Sheridan Opera House.

The Gages are known for making intelligent, visually seductive films about things that matter.”Fire” leads a list of celluloid investigations that includes clean drinking water, land rights, and human rights.

In “Fire,” the Gages had a much deeper, much broader perspective than simply telling the (true) story a bunch of type-A mountain goats, who wound up, after WWII ended, starting resorts (Aspen, Vail, Mt. Bachelor), building sporting goods empires (Nike) and anchoring pivotal eco-institutions (Sierra Club). The men of the 10th shared a transcendent experience. The idea of “No” was inadmissible.

The 10th Mountain poster is from contemporary combat drawings by 10th Mountain veteran, Jacques Parker, who is coming to Telluride for the events.

To learn more, click the “play” button and listen to George and Beth Gage talk about the making of “Fire on the Mountain,” their other projects and why Mountainfilm is worth supporting.

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