Camp Hale Military Life
When the Board of Officers investigating the proposed site for training U.S. mountain troops submitted its report, the only significant drawbacks noted were the isolation of the Pando, Colorado location, the absence of appropriate social outlets for the soldiers, and the low moral tone of Leadville. It was surmised at the time that “ it is probable that the type of men that will be selected, or who will volunteer for this specialized training will not require as much recreation as of the kind afforded by large population centers, as the average soldier.” The authors of the report anticipated that outdoor activities would suffice. The Colorado Rockies provided a multitude of outdoor opportunities and hiking, fishing, hunting, and skiing proved to be popular pastimes for all service personnel at Camp Hale.
For many members of the 10th Mountain Division, military training and outdoor enjoyment merged as they cross-country and downhill skied, set up survival camping in the winter, and climbed mountains. Through the recruiting efforts of the National Ski Patrol Service, many of the country’s top skiers had enlisted in to serve in the 10th. During their tenure at Camp Hale, they continued competing in regional events. Winter of 1944 brought several honors to the military base. In January, a team traveled to Salt Lake City, Utah, where they took four of five giant slalom events. Top honors went to international champion skier Corporal Friedl Pfeifer. In February, they competed in the Steamboat Springs Carnival, where ski jumper Torger Tokle placed first with a distance of 226 feet. Then in April, many men entered in the Pike's Peak Ski Tournament, an above timberline competition.
The concerns about the unwholesome environment in Leadville disappeared when the city cleaned up its problem with prostitution and gambling and enforced existing liquor laws. The Army lifted the off-limits ban and military personnel enjoyed the amenities of the town by March, 1943. Some restrictions still applied. Soldiers had to be back at Camp Hale by 11 p.m. on week nights, but could stay in town on Saturday nights with a proper pass, provided they were off the streets by 2 a.m. Other nearby towns also offered diversion. Glenwood Springs became a popular site for weekend trips, and in Aspen, soldiers could get a room at the Hotel Jerome for a dollar. Denver offered big city amusements, and regular buses from Camp Hale took the men and women to town. The Brown Palace became a favorite landmark. Before I-70, the trip could be harrowing. According to Women’s Army Corps member Jeanette Berkery (Richards), on one trip to Denver, a winter storm became so intense that a bus had to back half way down Loveland Pass when the drive could proceed no further.
Camp Hale provided a multitude of leisure time interests. Every attempt had been made to construct recreational facilities that included auditoriums, theaters, service clubs, and field houses to accommodate all types of activities. Soldiers could attend religious services, current movies, and participate in band or choral activities. Athletic competitions were held in a variety of sports, and at times Camp Hale teams competed against Colorado colleges. One of the more ambitious projects undertaken was a musical production titled “Hale and Hearty.” WACs and GIs performed original numbers in the review, and Denver radio station KOA broadcast the event. KOA radio also broadcast a music program performed by the Camp Hale regimental band. As was the case at most military posts, dances were extremely popular for officers and enlisted personnel, and dance contests drew many participants. Since there were so few WACs at Camp Hale, women were brought from Leadville so that there were enough dance partners for the men.
USO troupes traveled the world bringing entertainment to soldiers stationed at home and abroad. At Camp Hale, the USO provided all types of entertainment popular at the time singers, impersonators, magicians, and ventriloquists. Big-name personalities including actresses Jane Wyman and Jinx Falkenberg, boxer Joe Louis, and Fred Waring and His Pennsylvanians made appearances, and radio personality Lowell Thomas broadcast from the service club in January, 1944.
The town of Leadville took great interest in Camp Hale and the Leadville Herald Democrat chronicled a myriad of activities and events at the post. Service men and women could also be apprised of local happening and national news through Special Service Division News Service (S.S.D. New Service) which broadcast releases from United Press, Associated Press, and other news services each morning. The Camp Hale publication, the SKI-ZETTE enhanced morale at the post, publicized upcoming events, touted the accomplishments of the service personnel, and provided news items of immediate interest to persons stationed there. These publications provide the best available insight into the social life of Camp Hale.