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Posted on Fri, Nov 11, 2011 : 5:59 a.m.

World War II vet remembers days in elite ski troopers 10th Mountain Division in Italy

By Janet Miller


Charles F. "Fritz" Lehmann

Janet Miller | For

Don’t call Charles F. “Fritz” Lehmann, 88, a war hero.

He was part of the storied 10th Infantry Mountain Division ski troopers, credited with capturing the strategic Riva Ridge that helped the Allied forces take Italy. During his tour in Italy, which lasted less than a year, he was involved in heavy fighting, wounded once and cheated death another time.

But even today, as the nation marks Veterans Day and as the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor nears, Lehmann remains humble. He’s not a hero, he said. He’s a survivor.

Members of this Greatest Generation, who answered the call to duty then returned home to build a new America, are dwindling with just two million World War II veterans still alive. In 2009, their median age was 86. “There’s not all that many left,” said Lehmann, a retired University of Michigan professor and associate dean.

World War II veterans serve as the father figure to younger veterans, said John Kinzinger, from VFW Post 423. But like many war veterans, many didn’t share their stories once they returned home. “Once they are gone, their stories are gone forever,” he said.

In 1943, Lehmann enlisted after his sophomore year at U-M, part out of patriotism and part because he wanted to be the master of his fate. Lehmann knew he could be drafted, and he volunteered for the elite 10th Mountain Division, created to fight in harsh terrain.

“I wanted to avoid doing something I didn’t want to do,” Lehmann said. He was swayed by the marketing. “There were ads in Life magazine that were seductive, they talked about how it was a special unit with a special diet.” he said.

Lehmann trained for a year and a half year at Camp Hale in the mountains of Colorado. The food was special, but not in the way Lehmann had figured. The military wanted to test the limits of human survival, requiring ski troopers to sleep in minus 52-degree weather with little food: A concentrated chocolate bar called a D-Bar, tea and reconstituted oatmeal. Lehmann lost 21 pounds in 11 days on this special diet. It was before high-tech fibers. “We were dressed in wool and poplin. That was the extent of it,” Lehmann said.

He learned to rock climb carrying 90 pounds, survival skills and how to pack a mule. The rock climbing, it turned out, would prove to be the most useful.

Lehmann and his division were shipped off to Naples, Italy in January 1945, where they headed north up the peninsula. The war immediately became real. After setting up tents shortly after landing, a group of soldiers decided to explore an area by the railroad tracks, setting off land mines the Germans had placed before their retreat.

“We were there less than one day before we had dead and wounded,” Lehmann said. "I hadn’t really understood how you could be killed without seeing an enemy. For me, the scariest thing was the minefields. I always tried to follow someone with big feet.”

Another time, Lehmann was called on to run an errand to battalion headquarters while he was checking tunnels with his captain. Another sergeant replaced him. Lehmann reported back to find that both had been killed by artillery shells. “I really shouldn’t be here,” he said.

At one point, Lehmann was wounded when a piece of shrapnel from a shell that had landed nearby grazed his hand. Sheepishly - there were many wounds far worse than his - Lehmann went to a medic, who put heavy pressure on his broken hand. When Lehmann groaned from the pain, the medic declared the bone broken, wrapped it in tape and gauze and sent him back to duty.

It wasn’t long before Lehmann and his division would fight a decisive battle. The division took Riva Ridge, so snow and ice covered that the Germans figured it unnecessary to guard. Next, Lehmann was one of about 300 soldiers who went up the backside of Mount Belvedere, where the Germans had stubbornly been holed up for six months. They ascended the mountain, using ropes and pitons, carrying their weapons as they climbed. The fight was so crucial that a number of books have been written about it. The 10th Mountain Division took the mountain, but not before heavy losses. About 1,000 of the 13,000 soldiers in the division were killed. Germany surrendered in Italy in May 1945, and the 10th Mountain Division came home.

Back home in Rochester, NY, Lehmann was walking when a jet roared overhead. Instinctively, he dove to the ground.

When Lehmann talks of his war years, it’s about the camaraderie and light moments: About following lieutenant with his size 13 shoe in mind fields. Of soldiers reciting silly poems from home. Of playing cards for money. He still steers clear of the horror, he said. “There’s no point in trying to describe the grim stuff,” he said. “If you haven’t been there, it’s hard to describe.”



Mon, Nov 14, 2011 : 2:06 p.m.

God bless the 10th mtn division, they're currently deployed in Afghanistan, a good buddy is a cpt in the 10th.

Rose Bullen

Mon, Nov 14, 2011 : 2:29 a.m.

Thanks for your service to our country. God bless our military.


Fri, Nov 11, 2011 : 9:37 p.m.

It is amazing what Professor Lehmann did with the 10th Mountain. The 10th Mountain is still deployed in Afghanistan and has also served in Iraq. I salute my brother, a Marine Helicopter pilot in Vietnam, and my son, who is Special Forces, recently back from Afghanistan. I am grateful for these and millions of others who have served to keep us free!

Susan Strizek-Nestor

Fri, Nov 11, 2011 : 9:15 p.m.

my dad was in the 10th mountain division i dont know what year and i think he was in italy he was a well known skier his name was TOM KARL STRIZEK if any one readying this and knew him please contact me at It would be so awesome to hear about where and what he did. He never talked about the war so Please if anyone out there knew him or of him i would liove to hear from you Thank you for all of you in the division did for our country and us

Doug Imlach

Fri, Nov 11, 2011 : 7:49 p.m.

Typical of many WW ll vets. They do things that most of us wouldn't be able to do, under the worst of conditions, then simply act like they were only doing their jobs. Well done Soldier.


Fri, Nov 11, 2011 : 4:51 p.m.

Thank you for your service. The 10th Mountain has always distinguished themselves, both in combat and in peacetime. Thank you also for your leadership to the lads at Post 423. The risks are great and the rewards small but good soldiers are a blessing to any community.

Tom Teague

Fri, Nov 11, 2011 : 4:22 p.m.

For those of you who'd like to know more about the decisive battle that Mr. Lehmann fought in, in 2007 NPR broadcast a great multi-part radio series on US ski troops and Mount Belvedere. It can be found here: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> Thank you Mr. Lehmann.


Fri, Nov 11, 2011 : 3:25 p.m.

Thank you Charles F. "Fritz" Lehmann, you are our HERO! No matter how the press paints it you are the one that laid their life on the line for the rest of us! May God Bless you and take care of you and all your family and Friends without you I would not be banging away on my Keyboard . Although I don't know you personally I know you. Thank you very much.


Fri, Nov 11, 2011 : 3:21 p.m.

Thank you Dr. Lehmann for your valuable service to this country. My father and great uncle served in the Pacific in WWII. Fortunately, my dad returned fine, but my great uncle died in the assault on Tinian. Remembering them this week and all other veterans - especially those who gave their lives.


Fri, Nov 11, 2011 : 3:17 p.m.

I am surprised that Ann Arbor actual cares about the military and the men/women who defend this country! Maybe the &quot;progressiveness&quot; is wearing off and people are coming to their senses and realizing the value of the military.


Fri, Nov 11, 2011 : 3:26 p.m.

Right ON!

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Fri, Nov 11, 2011 : 2:05 p.m.

On this Veterans Day, let's rededicate ourselves to both taking care of and honoring our veterans and stopping the war in Afganistan, which together with the war in Iraq (both senseless conflicts we shouldn't have pursued) have cost our nation trillions of dollars and so many lives we couldn't afford to lose.


Sat, Nov 12, 2011 : 9:42 p.m.

Thank you for your kind comments Stephen. Glad to have served. You would been in a very small minority in 2001 for advocating not to enter Afghanistan. Your proposal also would have left UBL in a country the size of Texas, and sheltered by that government. Again, we may never know but I'd be very confident in a prediction that we'd still be pursuing him today. Regarding the Cold War, ideology is often at the point of a gun. We may have been winning the people, but folks in China, Vietnam, Cuba, Romania, etc. never had much choice in the matter. Best way I can describe this is that in Feb. of 1989 I was performing an Arms Control inspection at a Soviet Missile Base in the far east. Over breakfast, the base commander remarked that he had enough missiles on his base to destroy all of China but couldn't find sugar for his daughter's cereal. The implosion of the USSR was still months away, but the cracks were appearing. The rest of our conversation steered towards the conclusion that their &quot;planned&quot; economy had failed them - they could not keep up with the US, technology, and a growing economy under that system. When a missile base commander makes that conclusion, the handwriting was on the wall.

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Sat, Nov 12, 2011 : 4:34 p.m.

For example, in the Cold War, Istanbul was in the front lines, but the Turks were on our side. It made our job of fighting off the Soviets efforts to undermine the government there and seize Turkey a lot easier. At any rate we will never know if a different strategy that didn't cost us $1 trillion and so many of or citizen soldiers's lives could have been pursued to bring OBL down. That mistake (in my opinion) was made by the generals and Presidents who crafted and ordered up the big picture strategy. The soldiers like you and your comrades in arms carried out the plan beautifully and while we won each battle, it didn't work in 2001 (OBL got away). I would assert that it was the strategy that was flawed, not the execution.

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Sat, Nov 12, 2011 : 4:28 p.m.

@Arborcomment: First off, thanks for your service to our country! Your first hand knowledge is a useful addition to the historical record that I've seen so far. As to whether or not the bases in Afghanistan were crucial to bringing OBL down or not, you make some good points that they had a role. I still assert that an alternative strategy of running HUMINT from Pakistan itself could have been pursued, with the support of the Pk government especially IF we had never invaded Afghanistan - the Pakistani people would have still supported us and been &quot;on our side&quot; as everyone was immediately after 9/11 because we were the victims. The SIGINT that brought OBL down included intelligence from Pk related to his courier's mobile phone and internet usage and he was then followed around for months (Afghanistan didn't play a part) by HUMINT. The monitoring of the compound to determine that OBL was there was done by satellites in space and HUMINT in Pk. If we had never invaded Afghanistan we might have dropped a strategic weapon on OBL's head in A-bod and the negative impact would have been less overall than what we did do. In the Cold War we were fighting an ideology and by winning the ideological war, we reduced the number of countries where we had to fight the Soviets significantly. The people were on our side, so our job was easier when fighting our enemies, including the counter-intelligence we did. I was in southern Egypt the week before 9/11 and wherever I went the people loved Americans. Today, even though I speak some Arabic and founded a division of our bank that serves Muslims I couldn't go there, nor can our agents do so safely, or in Pk or any frontline Muslim conflict nation. (continued)


Sat, Nov 12, 2011 : 2:50 a.m.

Continued: as his communications were limited to PTT. UBL in 2011: frankly pissing off ISI or the Pk Army (the Pk would have rather preferred we got UBL in 2001) was not the concern about using a cruise missile for a strike on Abbottobad. It was the expected outrage of the Pakistani people and corresponding pressure on that government. They are already restless about Pred strikes, but those are in the FATA and SWAT. A-bad is around a 100 miles from Islamabad. HUMINT and SIGINT for A-bad. As explained earlier, there was not much SIGINT. Having a 2002 New York times article on that topic did not help matters much. For the HUMINT, it was better to run sources through Afghanistan south and east than it was from Islamabad or Karachi. Better to come in under the fence rather than starting from ISI's dugout. Your credible source: I deployed to Uzbekistan on October 10th 2001 as a member of a National Intelligence Support Team. We supported 5th Special Forces Group, OGAs, and elements of the 10th Mtn in operations in Afghanistan. The NIST was comprised of all elements of the intelligence community and further deployed by October 29th to several locations in Afghanistan culminating at Tora Bora in December 2001.


Sat, Nov 12, 2011 : 2:24 a.m.

I'll give it try. Would like to start sort of chronologically with your last paragraph first. I'm not sure where you are coming from on the &quot;Hearts and Minds&quot; and winning the Cold War. H&amp;M had little to do with it. Try a massive and expensive Reagan arms build up, fought tooth and nail by America's left that forced an already dismal socialist planned economy to go belly up. Granted, force of arms were not used by the main combatants, but plenty of proxies would differ on that. I never said on to Somalia or any other backwater with military force. Sadly it is our enemy M.O., please don't advocate sending innocent Peace Corps folks for a little H&amp;M to a country providing sanctuary or tacit approval to those that wish us harm. Likewise, those countries that do so should be made very aware that they risk a visit from another kind of Corps. Sorry, confirming the kill was a strategic necessity and a political mandate. Bush would have been run out of town on a rail by the American people if he announced he was going to handle it like Clinton via &quot;legal prosecution&quot; and a few cruise missiles at an empty camp and a pill factory. The same thing would have happened to Obama. A body was needed. Re: ISI and 2001-2002. If any contact occurred, the last would have been just prior to the &quot;bug out&quot; of Kandahar in November 2001. After that, he was literally dodging shellfire and aerial bombs with a visit up north to &quot;rally&quot; the Arab Brigade (hard core non-Afghan ALQ) near Konduz (they were shredded), then down to Kabul, then over the turkey neck to Jalabad, then down to Tora Bora. He had already learned about SIGINT Darwinism (talking too much or on certain types of mediums was dangerous to your health) and relied on VHF push-to-talk and couriers. If there was any contact with ISI, Kandahar was probably the last place it took place. ISI did not want to be anywhere near him if he was captured or exploded and his communicatio

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Sat, Nov 12, 2011 : midnight

@Arborcomment: please cite one credible source that the HUMINT and SIGINT that was used to catch OBL came from Afghanistan. Please cite one credible source that OBL was not the recipient of intel from the ISI during the flight to and from Tora Bora. If you do I'll eat some of my words above and give you a tip of the hat for your superior intel. As to being concerned about using strategic weapons against the ISI's assets and ticking off the Pakistani Army, these are the people who are currently using &quot;The Haqqani Network&quot; to blow up our soldiers, bases and strategic assets in that region, so who cares if we tick them off bringing OBL to a justly deserved nasty end? The rest of the &quot;benefits&quot; you cite, &quot;confirming the kill&quot;, &quot;stealth&quot; are not worth the 1,000s of brave soldiers' lives lost or the $1 trillion dollars wasted in that God forsaken corner of the Earth. So, under your scenario we make Afghanistan a developed nation, we still have to eliminate every possible sanctuary in the whole world, Somalia, Yemem, Mali, etc. We won the Cold War not by using our military in the field but by winning the hearts and minds of the people of the world. We don't have the financial resources to pay our existing federal government debt, let alone each backward place on Earth where a terrorist might hide! We need to revert to the winning Cold War &quot;winning hearts and minds&quot; strategy not the Never Ending War Doctrine. When you go to war with a tribal society every time you kill one terrorist, you tick off 100 relatives and end up with more people fighting you!


Fri, Nov 11, 2011 : 9:47 p.m.

Continued: why didn't we &quot;just drop a missile&quot; on UBL in Abbotobad? Answer: a) you want a body, not an Elvis. b) slow speed, payload and radar cross-section issues with a Pred (or multiple Preds). c) Cruise missiles, even with conventional warheads are a strategic weapon and a major escalation hitting a town in Pakistan that is home to their West Point. d) using conventional aircraft would not have been possible due to radar coverage, stealth aircraft (B-2) leads us back to strategic. So, if you want to get UBL, and you want confirmation, the SEAL team is it. And where do you think that SEAL team came from? Answer: Afghanistan.


Fri, Nov 11, 2011 : 9:33 p.m.

Stephan, &quot;I'd rather develop the USA than some feudal backwater&quot;. So would I Steph, but you fundamentally misunderstand why we went in and why we need to be there not. #1. We entered Afgahnistan because the Taliban Government refused to turn over UBL. For all purposes they were allies. UBL was there because it was a feudal backwater. ALQ continually sought refuge (and still does today) where unstable governments exist. Think Somalia, Yemen, Mali, etc. He did not receive ISI support during the 74 day campaign in Afghanistan. He was continually on the run and exited into the FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Authority) area of Pakistan (the name is a misnomer, it's neither Federal or Administered) along with other elements of the Taliban that survived. The strategy that you say &quot;failed&quot; removed a repressive Taliban government, a UBL ally, and UBL himself to a cave in Tora Bora in approximately 68 days. You degrade those who participated in this first campaign by writing such statements (in a touch of irony you hit the 10th Mtn, as elements of that unit were in Northern Afghanistan). 2) Sadly, we then repeated the mistakes of the past in largely leaving Afghanistan before it's government was established enough to resist the Taliban that returned, a Taliban that has never renounced support for ALQ. Our leaving, our distraction, was Iraq. But we recognize that &quot;just leaving&quot; without a stable Afghan government and local population still in a &quot;feudal backwater&quot; allows that backwater to become a safe haven and breeding ground for those that want to kill us because we are infidels. 2) I call your &quot;drop missiles on his head&quot; the Armchair General/Biden argument. Where do you think the bulk of Pred missions are flown from? Answer: Afghanistan. How do you base them there without control? Answer: you don't. Where do you think the HUMINT and SIGINT was based that got UBL? Answer: Afghanistan. Why didn't we &quot;just d

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Fri, Nov 11, 2011 : 7:57 p.m.

@Eagleman @ Arborcomment: What's the price of revenge? $1 trillion? Think of all the good that the $1 trillion our Afghan adventure cost could have bought here in the U.S.A. (better education, infrastructure, faster job growth through lower taxes and less diversion of money to wasteful defense expenditures, etc.) The entire strategy of invading Afghanistan to catch Bin Ladin was misguided from the start as events on the ground proved. Bin Laden had intelligence and logistical support from Pakistan's intelligence agency (the ISI). Whenever we got close he went someplace else until after Tora Bora he fled to Pakistan. That strategy didn't work and never was going to! Our intelligence community caught up with him with Human Intelligence and Signals Intelligence none of which came from Afghanistan. Since we sent the Seals on a kill mission and not a capture mission, we could have dropped missiles on his head like we tried to do several times along the way without spending the $1 trillion for boots on the ground in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is a tribal feudal society and has been since before the time when Alexander the Great fought his way through there thousands of years ago. Our strategy of creating a strong central government there is a bottomless pit of a fantasy. It will never happen even if we spend another $1 trillion. I'd rather &quot;develop&quot; the U.S.A. with our national treasure than some lightly populated feudal backwater desert in the middle of nowhere!


Fri, Nov 11, 2011 : 7:10 p.m.

Nice until the throwing in of the Iraq and Afganistan comment. While I lean to your side on the former, no way on the latter. Our troops, along with NATO and ISAF forces, are there to prevent it again becoming a sanctuary for those that would attack us. In addition, and as part of this effort, we make every effort to minimize civilian causalities and improve their quality of life. Been there twice. Stick to banking.


Fri, Nov 11, 2011 : 6:36 p.m.

Are you serious about Afghanistan? That is where Bin Laden--you know the person who masterminded the attacks on the US--was residing. How is pursuing the people who attacked us &quot;senseless&quot;? If the Taliban had not chosen to protect Al Queda and Bin Laden Afghanistan would have never been invaded. The only thing senseless here is your post. Afghanistan was and is a legitimate war on those who attacked us. The reality of war and basic humanitarian principles means we just cannot &quot;pack up and go&quot; . Actually, we already did that in Afghanistan. We left the Afghanis' to fend for themselves once the Russians left in 89'. We all saw how that turned out. You are proof that few Americans actually understand strategy, war, history, and foreign policy. Your ignorance of the basic facts of the Afghanistan war is stunning.

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Fri, Nov 11, 2011 : 5:36 p.m.

@Adam Betz: My father rose from Seaman recruit to Commander in the Navy and my Grandfather fought in WWI. Up until his death at age 104 my Grandfather (a decorated hero) when his memory of nearly everything else was shot, relayed with horror some of his stories of what he experienced during wartime. We cannot afford to lose even a single life in a foolish overseas adventure!! Unfortunately, our political leadership has chosen an opposite course of action. They have thrown away the accomplishments purchased at great cost, of our parents and grandparents, who made the U.S.A. the most respected country in the world. Now we are perceived globally as deserving the same respect as tyrannies like North Korea and Iran. These costly and wasteful conflicts have destroyed 90 years of foreign policy success in just 10 years.

Adam Betz

Fri, Nov 11, 2011 : 3:51 p.m.

Stephen, of course you can afford to lose the lives of us fighting these wars. If that was actually the case, the American people wouldn't have allowed us to be sent in the first place. However, American Idol and new seasons of The Office are on so let's shut off the news and not worry about reality.


Fri, Nov 11, 2011 : 3:27 p.m.

I hate to agree but do :(

Marilyn Wilkie

Fri, Nov 11, 2011 : 1:59 p.m.

Today I remember two of my uncles who died in two different wars. They were both brothers of my father who served in World War II. Richard Henry Arnold Birth 23 Nov 1896 in Lourie Falls, Dakota, United States of America Death 27 Feb 1917 in France Theodore Samuel Arnold Birth 1905 in United States of America Death 7 Apr 1943 in Fort William McKinley, Manila, The Philippines


Fri, Nov 11, 2011 : 3:29 p.m.

Thank you for your remembrance, they as well as most appreciate it.


Fri, Nov 11, 2011 : 1:50 p.m.

While reading Fritz's story I realized that we just don't have a clue about what makes a real hero. These people have lived their lives with dignity despite amazing pasts. Thanks for sharing this story.


Fri, Nov 11, 2011 : 12:10 p.m.

Thanks for you service Fritz, you're a great American!


Fri, Nov 11, 2011 : 12:09 p.m.

My father and his brother were in WWI, two brothers in WWII, and another younger brother who escaped the draft (Vietnam) by medical studies. Have we any WWI vets left in the A2 area?? Strange thing that in those days, no-one ever talked about their war days, nor were there any post traumatic stress programs. At least my father and brothers never discussed their days in the war. There must have been just as many so affected and I wonder how they handled it.


Fri, Nov 11, 2011 : 11:40 a.m.

Had three uncles in World War II, one brother in Korea and one in Vietnam - and thankfully they all came home. God Bless each and everyone of the young men and women who have over the many years served their country. Because of you, we continue to enjoy our freedoms. Thank you.