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The Creaghe Training Support Center at Fort Drum honors a World War II veteran of the 10th Mountain Division who served bravely in the mountains of Italy before he was wounded in combat. First Lt. John S. Creaghe was born April 14, 1921, in Meeker, Colorado, having never skied or snowshoed in his life until he joined the Army and was assigned to the mountain troops at Camp Hale as a newly commissioned officer. (Graphic by Mike Strasser, Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs)

Name of facility at Fort Drum honors heroic 10th Mountain Division officer of World War II

Mike Strasser

Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs

FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Jan. 29, 2024) – The 10th Mountain Division (LI) is all about training Soldiers to be combat-ready, and that tradition of mission readiness was born in the frigid peaks of Camp Hale, Colorado, and at Camp Swift, Texas, where thousands of troops developed their mountain warfare skills.

One highly decorated Mountain Soldier, who served with the 1st Battalion, 85th Mountain Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division, during World War II, is memorialized at Fort Drum’s 1st Lt. John S. Creaghe Training Support Center.

John St. George Creaghe was born April 14, 1921, in Meeker, Colorado, a small ranching town located on the north side of White River and near the Flat Tops Wilderness Area.

He graduated from Lamar High School in 1939 and then attended the University of Colorado. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in 1943, Creaghe entered military service at Camp Walters, Texas. The 22-year-old then completed Officer Candidate School at then-Fort Benning, Georgia, and joined the 10th Mountain Division at Camp Hale, Colorado, where he was assigned to the 85th Infantry Regiment.

In an oral history interview conducted in 2004, Creaghe said he arrived at the newly built camp in the Pando Valley without ever having skied or climbed before. When he took a group of Soldiers out on a snowshoe trek, a Soldier helped him put on the unfamiliar footwear.

“Shortly after that, I had to go on an all-day forced march on skis with my platoon,” he recalled. “I didn’t know anything about skiing. Every time I tried to turn, I fell over into the snow, which was a great source of amusement to the Soldiers who knew how to ski.”

When the division moved to Camp Swift, Creaghe said the change in climate and environment had a physical and mental effect on the troops, who were conditioned to operate in the mountains. It wouldn’t be long, though, before they received orders to depart for Italy. Before that, Creaghe was granted a three-day pass to visit his brother Larry, a Navy officer, in Dallas.

When his unit arrived in Naples, Creaghe was attached to 1st Battalion, Company B, which was tasked with seizing the eastern and western sides of Mount Belvedere with the 87th Infantry Regiment.

They had two weeks in theater to familiarize themselves with the unforgiving terrain and the enemy resistance they would encounter. This was no easy feat, as their objective covered eight kilometers and 10 different peaks, and so Soldiers set out on reconnaissance and surveillance patrols to gather intelligence.

The Riva Ridge assault was set just before midnight on Feb. 18, 1945, with the attacks on Mount Belvedere and the adjacent peaks of Mount Gorgolesco and della Torraccia on the following night.

Taking Mount Belvedere was a hard-fought uphill battle against fierce German resistance. Soldiers encountered intense small-arms and artillery fire from fortified enemy positions and minefields scattered across the hills.

“It was hell,” Creaghe recalled. “I wasn’t afraid, in the sense when you think of fear. I was just thinking if they hit me, I hope it is quick and easy.”

On Feb. 22-23, the 85th Mountain Infantry took Hill 1055, and the division achieved its objective of controlling the Mount Belvedere ridgeline on Feb. 25. The next major assault was in March on Mount della Spe, with the 85th and two other regiments sent to attack German fortifications on the 3,000-foot mountain.

Creaghe said barrages of 88mm rounds and mortar shells made the assault slow-going.

“One exploded so close to me that I could feel the heat in my legs,” he said. “But it didn’t touch me, and it didn’t touch anyone else.”

Control of della Spe paved the way for the 10th Mountain Division’s advancement on the Po Valley and the eventual surrender by the German Army on May 2, 1945.

Creaghe was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for combat at Mount della Spe, a Silver Star for his actions near Gorgolesco, a Bronze Star and Purple Heart. The Polish and Italian governments also awarded him the Cross of Valor.

According to one of his citations, Creaghe led seven Soldiers over the crest of the hill, despite heavy enemy fire. The attack forced the Germans into a disorganized retreat, while Creaghe instructed his men on defensive positions and fields of fire. After killing two enemy soldiers during four counterattacks, Creaghe was seriously wounded by a rifle grenade.

Having had evacuated two Soldiers for medical aid during the initial assault, Creaghe refused his own evacuation until after the counterattacks ceased. Even after losing consciousness, he remained in his foxhole so he could continue issuing orders to his Soldiers.

“During one of the counterattacks, one platoon sergeant or squad leader panicked and said, ‘We have to evacuate, we have to fall back.’ My job then, and fortunately I was conscious, was to shout at him that if we give it up tonight, we’re going to have to retake it tomorrow.”

Creaghe caught shrapnel again when a mortar round struck a tree as he was being evacuated to a medical station.

His wounds required surgery on his leg and hip, and Creaghe lost sight in one eye. He was transferred to a hospital in Menlo Park, California, for rehabilitation.

Later in life, Creaghe said he felt lucky to have only lost an eye in the war, and that he was fortunate in ways many others were not.

Creaghe received an honorable discharge from service on Nov. 2, 1945. He returned to the University of Colorado for a teaching certificate. While there, he was presented the Distinguished Service Cross during a ceremony inside the Boulder Theater.

He accepted a teaching position in Alliance, Nebraska, but his interest was in higher-level academia.

Creaghe earned his master’s degree from the University of Maryland in 1962 and a doctorate in political science in 1965, and he spent nearly 30 years teaching at the college level in New England.

He also continued to ski throughout his life, and he kept in touch with 10th Mountain Division veterans during reunions, including the 85th Mountain Infantry Regiment’s 50th in 1994.

“I think most Soldiers – I’d be willing to bet – regard that the service in combat, in the military, is probably the high point of their lives,” Creaghe said. “I feel that way. There’s never been anything else in my life that compares to my service in the war, and particularly combat in Italy.”

After 63 years of marriage to his wife Norma, Creaghe died at the age of 90 on June 28, 2011. He was buried with military honors by the 4th Infantry Division (Mechanized), in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

On April 8, 2015, 10th Mountain Division (LI) and Fort Drum officials rededicated the Training Support Center in honor of Creaghe, with family members in attendance.

(Editor’s note: Source material for this article includes Fort Drum Mountaineer coverage of the facility dedication, www.dvidshub.net/image/1871377/10th-mountain-division-names-training-facility-highly-decorated-world-war-ii-veteran, and an oral history, www.youtube.com/watch?v=mTACPaeHsxY.)