Pfc. Dorris Malear tells a story that suggests he may have been a survivor of the so-called Malmedy Massacre, one operation related to the famous Battle of the Bulge, in which the German 1st S.S. Panzer Division sought to instill fear in their enemies by taking no prisoners and killing all civilians in their path. While the details of Malear’s narrative differ somewhat from the historically accepted account of the Malmedy Massacre, he is certainly in the right place at about the right time.
On February 12, 1945, Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation paid host to several noted professional and collegiate coaches and athletes. These men traveled to various Army staging grounds delivering athletic programs to men as they prepared to journey overseas.
When the 10th Mountain Division staged in Hampton Roads they were preparing to embark for northern Italy. This mountainous region posed challenges in terms of the terrain. The task would be formidable. The Germans very well fortified with machine gun nests and bunkers across the so-called “Gothic Line.” How best to mount an offensive in this punishing landscape? As it happened, some foreign-born world champion skiers had been drafted into the U.S. Army and they would lend their expertise in training the troops to navigate the Apennine Mountains.
According to Fort Drum (home of the modern 10th Mountain Division), the inspiration for a unit specializing in mountain and winter warfare came from then President of the National Ski Patrol Charles M. Dole who was inspired by the Soviet Union’s costly invasion of Finland. In fact many of the unit’s infantry were recruited directly by the National Ski Patrol and perhaps some of those were the men who are subject of today’s post: world champion skiers like Friedl Pfiefer, Walter Prager, and Sigi Engl. Readers interested in learning more about the 10th Mountain Division’s heroics during the assault on northern Italy are encouraged to read the Fort Drum page.Read more
As professional catalogers going about our business of creating electronic records for photographs there are many steps we have to complete in order to ensure the work we do is thorough and accurate. For the majority of the photos we work with the U.S. Army Signal Corp has included descriptive captions on the backs of the prints. In the case of officers these captions usually include their name, rank, a serial number, and hometown with additional details being attached to more senior officers. The information may be minimal, but it is absolutely crucial to us!
In the photograph below we have two brigadier generals and a major belong to the 10th Mountain Division preparing to embark for northern Italy, January 1945. Their junior staff lurk in the background. The Signal Corp has provided the names and basic info on each individual. Now its time to go to work.Read more
In the summer of 1942 Newport News, Virginia, was once again called upon to play a major role for the United States as the armed forces prepared for another war in Europe. Just as they had done in the first World War, the railroads and ports would be used to transport massive numbers of soldiers and supplies abroad. Collectively the Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation included warehouses and barracks in Warwick County, offices and piers in Newport News, a hospital in Phoebus, Fort Monroe, piers in Sewall’s Point, and the old Norfolk Army Base. Major W. Reginald Wheeler, in his two volume set about HRPE, The Road to Victory, writes that 1,687,000 men and women passed through the port before its decommission in 1945.
In the midst of all this hustle and bustle was the U.S. Army Signal Corps, hard at work documenting the daily life of soldiers and officers, their work loading cargo and embarking passengers, the many ships that came to port, and much more. Photographers like Sergeant Robert Olen, shown below with HRPE historian Major Wheeler, produced the more than 14,000 prints and negatives that we are currently working to catalog and make available to the public.Read more