27 March, 2011

Captain America Couldn't Get In The Tenth Division


Since I have a happy large bumpsworth of readers coming in from the military veteran site, Blackfive, I want to write a little about some drawings I did, WWII, my father's service and also share some gratuitous climbing stories.  Pull up a chair.

Personal story.

One time I was rock climbing in the Cascade Mountains with another fellow, and I mentioned my father's having been in the 10th Mountain Division.  He said that his own father wanted very badly to get in the Tenth, but was underage.  That guy's father went on to become one of the most esteemed mountain climbers of all time, which was probably some consolation to him.  Anyway, we did some gnarly climbs, and started singing climbing and Tenth Mountain songs at the top of our voices.  It was fun.

Captain America Couldn't Get In The Tenth Division.

My father had similar experiences.  He'd be at the VFW and some guy would be at the bar asking where he served.  When dad told, the answer invariably went something like, "no kiddin'?  I tried to get in that unit!"

Service in the World War II 10th Mountain Division was a rare and unique privilege.  Some men volunteered for special units, and then had to qualify for their billet, and we think of paratroopers, fliers, and Marine Raiders when we think of elite troops in the war.  But, in the Tenth, an applicant had to present qualifications as a mountaineer, skier or some type of rugged outdoorsman, such as a wrangler, cowboy or mule skinner.  As proof, you had to carry three letters of recommendation from some authority on the matter.  Then, after being successfully boarded, you were privileged to train with the nation's only ski troops and mountain infantry, and to say it was rugged is comically understated.

Anyway, the short version is that my dad's unit was the hardest trained unit of Americans in the Second World War.  This explains some of the reason for their outstanding performance in combat on the Italian Front.  I visited the battlefields in 2006, and the reception the veterans received there from the Italians was remarkable.

I had the privilege of drawing some designs and images for a war monument, and the story is told in the following re-post.

Climber Sketch.

Sketch WW II Climber
11" x 9"
Charcoal, Pastel and Compressed White Charcoal on Rives BFK
Casey Klahn

Yesterday's post on the Medal of Honor.

I am proposing an illustration for a memorial to my late father's World War Two army division. I will post the roughs and sketches here as I get them completed.

This guy has a ways to go as a sketch, but he's on the path. I want to re-render the hand, and maybe add some more grace of movement. That used to be a big deal for me in the days when I drew the figure lots, and it has extra meaning when rock climbing is involved. I did enjoy taking the extra effort to model the figure, especially since it will stick out (if this becomes the final image) from a marble flat as an etching.

Next, I want to render a ski trooper as another proposal for the etching.

For you oldsters out there: remember Tom Lea? I certainly thought of his seminal on-sight drawings from WW II. Must have rubbed off on my psyche.

This book, The Two Thousand Yard Stare, covers Lea's WW II art and writings about his work. I once asked my late father, who saw heavy combat in North Italy, about this phenomenon of the "two thousand yard stare," which is the look a shell-shocked infantryman "gets" when he comes off the line. His story was a keeper. He said that he recalled one guy in particular who had that look coming off the front in the North Apennines (revered as one of the worst places to be in WW II) and he was also rather tall. Maybe 6' 6" or something like that.  Years after the war, my dad picked him out of a crowd back in the states - quite an unusual circumstance, but he certainly remembered that guy's face.

I spent a number of years in the infantry, and later as a mountain climber. All subjects deeply held, and good content for my illustrations.

They Drew Fire. PBS documentary on war artists of WW II.
Tenth Mountain Division Association. My father's army unit. I am working up illustrations for a 
memorial plaque in their honor.

Photo credit: Lorie Klahn

Finger Crack,
Leavenworth, Washington


SamArtDog said...

Wonderful post about the !0th, Casey. Having grown up skiing back east and then having moved to Aspen long enough ago to remember Vail being built with duct tape and a staple gun, I've always had the 10th to thank for much of my own history. I listened to their stories, attended their ski schools, skied at their areas (before chairlifts), toured the Huts and even did time on their Ski Patrols. They've been my larger-than-life heros and my patrons.

What an amazing photo, Lorie! Are those actually your fingers in the crack, Casey? Not much distance from chalk to pastels, eh?

Casey Klahn said...

All Colorado skiers know their TMD history, don't they, Sam? I once met Johnny Woodward, who ran the largest ski school in the USA, which was Camp Hale. otherwise known now as Cooper Hill.

All my heroes, but especially my father.

Those are my fingers, Sam. Too bad I couldn't figure out what those slippers and that rope were for.

SamArtDog said...

The slippers and rope are clearly balast. And a fashion statement.

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