WWII Veteran’s Tales Enthrall Rotary Club

Photo by Larissa Althouse / OUTLOOK San Marino resident Bruce Campbell offered a colorful reminiscence of his tour of duty in Italy with the Army’s 10th Mountain Division. See additional photos, page 6.
Photo by Larissa Althouse / OUTLOOK
San Marino resident Bruce Campbell offered a colorful reminiscence of his tour of duty in Italy with the Army’s 10th Mountain Division. See additional photos, page 6.

Speaking in a clear bass voice and using frankness rather than drama to add flair to his stories, local resident Bruce Campbell captivated the Rotary Club of San Marino recently as he recalled his time serving in the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division in Italy during World War II.
That candid delivery made the wry 94-year-old an effective jokester who even made a quip about walking up to the club’s podium (“This will take a minute, don’t worry”). He knew how to read the room, too, days ahead of the annual Trojans-Bruins football matchup.
“I was at — pardon the expression — UCLA,” he said, beginning his monologue about joining the Army while the USC-heavy Rotary Club chuckled.
Campbell was 18 when he enlisted in the Army, having been intrigued by an advertisement for its Mountain Division, casually referred to as “ski troops” for their winter-themed equipment and the fact they got around by mountain climbing and skiing. Training in Colorado involved 15 months of skiing, climbing and traveling with altitude- and winter-appropriate gear.
“Skiing with heavy packs is a lot different from the parallel skiing technique,” he said. “If you happened to fall down, it took two or three guys to get you up. Everything was carried on our backs or on mules. Many times we were working up to and over 13,000 feet. Even though it was often 35 [degrees] below zero, we had excellent equipment and clothing and it worked out beautifully.”
Campbell’s division ultimately was shipped to Italy, where it would work to drive the German-controlled Axis forces out of the Po Valley in northeastern Italy near the Alps.
“We were wondering if we were going to get involved in that fracas,” he said, referring to the war itself and explaining how his division’s troops were loaded onto a ship without knowing their destination. “We didn’t know where we were going to end up, until we went through the Strait of Gibraltar. We were going to Italy.
“Our white uniforms, most of the mules and many of the skis did not accompany us to Italy,” Campbell continued. “Another Army snafu, as they call it. Many of the mules went to the Philippines, where they died in the process. We never knew what happened to the skis. We couldn’t do anything about it. We just had to hunker down and dig deeper foxholes.”
The 10th and other divisions, Campbell said, made their way from peak to peak, taking over German positions used to stall Allied forces. Those advancing forces used mortar fire to help them overrun the overextended Germans, who by that point were relieving the largely defeated Italian military.
Campbell said after the German surrender, the 10th was sent beyond the Po Valley to a locale near the Italian city of Trieste to guard against the potential return of Yugoslav forces led by Josip Broz Tito, who had ceded control of the area after an agreement with the Allies. The city had been annexed into Italy after World War I when the Austro-Hungarian Empire was partitioned.
“It was about two months of the best R&R we ever could have imagined,” Campbell said. “We never had any encounters with the Yugoslav forces or Marshal Tito. There was just no problem at all. We got along well.”
The 10th Mountain Division was to return to the U.S. to prepare for an invasion of Japan, but Campbell said that during a crossing of the Atlantic Ocean it received news that the first atomic bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima. Campbell and his comrades were discharged after Japan’s surrender when the second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki.
“After the second, that just about took care of that,” he said.
Campbell spent his years collecting memorabilia from his service and included some of those photos in a slide show, including a photo of some of his now-deceased comrades with Campbell’s mule, Elmer. (“I think he’s gone, too,” he quipped.) More recently, Campbell has published writings in World War II-themed publications and also lends his voice to a barbershop quartet.
He also has returned throughout the years for reunions in Italy, where he and his peers were greeted with enthusiasm by the Italians, so much so that Campbell “couldn’t buy a beer at the bar.” He recalled the typical Mountain Division call-sign — climb to glory — and added that he had invented his own back in the day.
Campbell simply yodeled.

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