It is not a family secret that my grandfather served with the Navy SeaBees in the Pacific Theater during World War II. Although he had one or two anecdotes that he would retell, his time of service remained a mystery, and he refused to discuss the war in any real detail. After having our questions deflected over and over again, we eventually stopped asking. I do not think his reticence to speak about the War is uncommon among veterans.
It wasn’t until after my grandfather’s death several years ago that I began reading more about the Pacific Theater of the War. The first book I picked up was eye opening for me, and I began to better understand who my grandfather was and how his experiences in the War shaped the man I knew.
A similar story is likely unfolding for some families of Army veterans who served in World War II and spent time at Camp Hale. In 1942, the Pando Valley of Colorado became the home of the 10th Mountain Division of the U.S. Army. Camp Hale was established to train its soldiers for rugged mountain conditions in winter. Skills such as skiing, snowshoeing, surviving the cold, and fighting in the mountains were necessary for what would become the Army’s eventual mission in the mountains of northern Italy. Nicknamed “Camp Hell,” training caused altitude sickness, frostbite, and low morale due to its isolated location and constant polluted air from coal fires. More than 15,000 men passed through Camp Hale and with them countless experiences that shaped their lives, their families, and the world.
There were 16 million World War II veterans and less than a quarter of a million remain with us today- and hundreds pass every day. This means their untold stories and life experiences pass with them. It is our responsibility to make a concerted effort to find ways to preserve their memories and honor their sacrifices and service.
President Biden has the authority to create the Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument through the use of the Antiquities Act. There is plenty of support for this action, which would ensure that the history of this irreplaceable landscape is permanently protected and the stories of those who passed through the camp can be shared with future generations.
I cannot ever truly understand what my grandfather and his fellow service members experienced during their time in World War II. I honestly do not believe he would want me to, which is why childhood questions remained unanswered. Designating Camp Hale as a national monument is one step we can take to ensure the service and sacrifice of these men, endured both at home and in the field, is forever preserved and remembered.