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A ceremony recognizing the legacy of the 10th Mountain Division at the Whiteface Mountain Ski Lodge has been a decades-long tradition. It started in 1985 with a 126-mile relay run from Fort Drum to Lake Placid, but the annual run only lasted several years. (Graphic by Mike Strasser, Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs)

Event honored legacy of original Mountaineers, present division Soldiers who carry on tradition

Mike Strasser

Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs

FORT DRUM, N.Y. (June 20, 2023) – It started at Fort Drum in 1985 when a group of 10th Mountain Division (LI) Soldiers, led by their senior enlisted adviser, went on a long-distance run to Whiteface Mountain in the Adirondacks.

With the division re-activated just five months earlier, the event would honor the legacy of the 10th Mountain Division and celebrate the collaborative efforts that established the unit at Fort Drum while it was undergoing a massive expansion project.

According to an article in the post newspaper, “The Sentinel,” Maj. Lawrence Peterson, Fort Drum’s deputy inspector general, was the principal organizer of the relay run. He noted that the original concept included only division Soldiers for the run, but the event attracted participation from garrison units, civilian employees, and family members.

The 126-mile relay began one minute past midnight on June 22, 1985, when Command Sgt. Maj. Southern W. “Buddy” Hewitt – with a wooden baton engraved with the division crest clenched in his fist – took off on the first leg of the run. They would reach their destination a little over 16 hours later.

Col. Michael T. Plummer, division chief of staff, had the honor of carrying the baton to the top of Little Whiteface. The group gathered at the site of the division plaque, and Plummer presented representatives from the original 10th Mountain Division with a commemorative baton.

The plaque on Little Whiteface is mounted on a large piece of granite from Mount Belvedere, a gift from the Italian government in March 1962. It reads: “In tribute to the men of the 10th Mountain Division. This rock was brought by the government of Italy from Mount Belvedere, scene of the division’s greatest battle in World War II.”

Why Whiteface?

In the 1950s, New York State Governor Averell Harriman saw the impact that alpine skiing could have on tourism, and he pushed for the development of the ski area at Whiteface Mountain, the fifth highest peak in the Adirondacks.

Harriman formed the Whiteface Mountain Authority, and Hal Burton, a 10th Mountain Division veteran, served as its commissioner. Several other division veterans would serve prominent roles in the development, administration, and operation of the Whiteface Ski Center.

Arthur Draper, a division medic, locked in his post-war career with the burgeoning ski industry by opening the Marble Mountain ski center in the Adirondacks. Later, he managed Belleayre ski operations in the Catskills. Harriman personally requested that Draper serve as general manager when Whiteface Ski Area opened in 1958. The Whiteface Mountain Ski Center was dedicated to the 10th Mountain Division and the ski troops who fought in World War II.

Run and run again

The second annual relay run was scheduled on July 15, to commemorate the anniversary of the division’s activation at Camp Hale, Colorado. Hewitt took the lead again as roughly 80 runners covered the distance in 17 hours flat.

This time, the relay was divided into division and garrison units, which included 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment; 41st Engineer Battalion, and 33rd Finance Area Support Unit. Twenty-five runners from 10th Medical Battalion carried the baton to the lodge at the foot of Whiteface Mountain to complete the sojourn.

The following year, participation grew to almost 200 Soldiers. At the top of Whiteface Mountain, about 3,000 feet above the main lodge, Hewitt spoke about the “Fighting 10th” to the crowd of Soldiers, civilians, and division veterans.

“I stand before you and tell you that some of the finest damn Soldiers in the Army today are in the 10th Mountain Division,” Hewitt said. “You old-timers don’t have to worry about the Soldiers who have taken your place. I’ve been in the Army 32 years, and I’m here to tell you the Soldiers of the 10th are very capable of getting the job done.”

In 1987, Maj. Gen. Peter J. Boylan, division commander, joined Hewitt and Plummer to lead roughly 150 participants in the third annual run.

“The 10th Mountain Division veterans who are present here today and who have gone before us have to feel very, very proud that their contributions were recognized as being valuable,” Boylan said. “Valuable enough to result in the creation of a present-day division, which is a living testimony to what they contributed to so many years ago.”

No longer a midnight start, this relay – and subsequent others – would start in the evening and continue overnight.

In 1989, Soldiers from 10th Signal Battalion contributed to every leg of the 126-mile run, and 11 Soldiers from HHC, 2-22 Infantry, ran a combined 21.5 miles. Besides taking his customary place at the start, Hewitt also ran the final four legs to the base of Little Whiteface.

A new decade brought new traditions to the Whiteface Relay Run in 1990, with the closing ceremony featuring a 21-gun salute and the playing of “Taps” at the summit. More than 300 participants from Fort Drum ran the relay, which had 24 legs, with the longest extending over nine miles.

And guess who started the run?

“Now reach down and double tie your shoelaces,” Hewitt advised the runners at the starting line. “No excuses to stop once we start.”

At the conclusion of the 19-hour run, Hewitt, appreciative of the runners’ efforts, described them as “harder than a woodpecker’s lips.”

The senior NCO believed the run not only honored the legacy of the original Mountaineers but showcased the present division Soldiers who carry on the tradition of professional excellence.

“The veterans, like all Soldiers, think the Army went to hell when they left, but it’s not that way,” Hewitt remarked during the closing ceremony.

Boylan thanked Hewitt and Plummer, who conceived of the run six years earlier and participated in all of them. However, Hewitt said the 1990 run would be his last as a Soldier, as he was set to retire and would be moving home to Florence, South Carolina.

Plummer also was approaching retirement, but he planned to live nearby, in Watertown.

“Each year, this gets bigger and better. It won’t be my last one,” he said.

Some years later, the foot run was discontinued, but the memorial ceremony at the base of the Whiteface Mountain became a decades-old tradition for thousands of 10th Mountain Division Soldiers and veterans.

And the history doesn’t end there, as a new chapter is soon to be written this year when a new generation of 10th Mountain Division (LI) Soldiers “run for glory” June 22-23 in the Hewitt Relay and participate in the Whiteface Mountain Rededication Ceremony.