MEMOIRofWILLIAM REESE HARRISTranscript of a taped interview
Narrator: William Reese Harris
Tape: #102 A
Date: February 14, 1996.
Place of interview: Mr. Harris’ office on Main Street Lakeville, CT Interviewer: Jodie Stone.
Mr. Harris speaks of the World War II 10th Mountain Ski Troops of which he was a member. He also discusses the interest in skiing in the Salisbury area and the skiers.
Property of the Oral History Project
Salisbury Association at Scoville Memorial Library
Salisbury, CT 06068.
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JS: This is Jodie Stone on the 14th of February, 1996 interviewing Reese Harris at his office on Main Street in Lakeville. Reese, we need to know your whole name and where you were born.
RH: William H. Harris. I was born in Irvington, New York.
JS: When did you move here?
RH: In the early thirties. I’d say about 1930, 1931.
JS: To where you now live?
RH: Yes, that’s correct. I moved here from Geneva, New York, where I spent most of my childhood.
JS: Oh, you did? Not in New Jersey, then?
RH: No, Irvington, New York is where I was born.
JS: OK. Then Geneva and then here, with David, your brother
RH: Yes, and my brother, John.
JS: What we want to hear about from you, Reese, is the business of… Is it the Tenth Mountain?
RH: It was the Tenth Mountain.
JS: That you were in?
RH: Yes, right.
JS: And David. How did that come about? Where did you train?
RH: Well, we both, I think, had a love for skiing early on thanks to the Satres who lived here in Salisbury at that time. In fact, my first pair of skis came from Satres from Norway. When I went to college in 1936 to Williams I was on the ski team and my brother, Dave, was on the Yale ski team. So, when war broke out and we got word through the National Ski Patrol that they were recruiting people for the Tenth Mountain, or the Mountain Troops, as it was known then we joined up. We both went for our basic training to Camp Roberts in California. This was in 1942, January of 1942. From there we went to Fort Benning for Officers’ Training and then Camp Paol in Colorado for our mountain training. We both went to Kiska in the Aleutian Islands in 1943, where my brother was wounded and he was returned to the States early. I came back to the States in December of that year and returned to Camp Paol, at which point there were rumors that the Tenth Mountain was going to go down to Camp Swift in Texas. I had had enough of that. I was for the mountain troops and not for going to flat land. So, I applied for the Air Force, which was like waving a red flag. But anyway I left the Tenth and went to Europe with the Second Infantry division – Normandy, Brittany, the Battle of
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the Bulge and on into Germany. I ended the war in 1945 in Czechoslovakia in a very fitting spot. Our regimental command post in the brewery in Pilsen. So we had plenty of beer to celebrate the end of the war, and then came back to Le Havre to the States at which point the war in Japan came to a conclusion and we were demobilized and were not kept in any longer.
JS: So, was the Tenth Mountain ever in Europe?
RH: The Tenth Mountain went to Italy and that’s where my brother went.
JS: Oh, he stayed in?
RH: He stayed in. It was pretty strange. Just prior to the Battle of the Bulge, our artillery commander, General Hayes, came and said to me, “I have just been notified that I am going to take over command of the Tenth Mountain Division in Italy, and I know you have a brother there. Is there anything you would like me to tell him?” I recollect I said, ’’Tell him to keep his head down.” He actually did see my brother and passed that along to him. So, Dave stayed in Italy until April of 1945. We both met up again in New York City in July of that year, both thinking that we were heading for Japan. But, thank goodness, that never occurred. And that’s just about it.
JS: That’s very interesting. Now, tell me about the skis being made here in town.
RH: Well, they were made by the Satre family.
JS: Who were they?
RH:and Johan. I think Johan initially was brought over
here by Mr. Donald Warner, Sr., and worked for Mr. Warner. He brought his brothers and their families over here in the years following and they became Olympic champions. Otar was an outstanding jumper. Magnus was a national cross country champion. I think they were both on the American Olympic team. Satre joined up in the U.S. Armed Forces and had a very distinguished career, was heavily decorated, as I recollect. They were the ones who started this manufacturing.
JS: Were they wooden? the skis?
RH: Yes, they were wooden.
JS: Were they very, very long?
RH: They were all different sizes. But I’d say, back in those days, the average ski was a bit long. Today, we go by centimeters. In those days it was by feet. I’d say seven and a half feet
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long, they were a very good ski. I guess some of them wereused by the battle troops, but not all of them. A companyout in Colorado made wooden skis, which were used by theski troops. We were known as mountain troops. We werenot ski troops, although the publicity was ski troops. Wewere able to fight either in snow or in the mountains, in anyconditions. I think at one time we were headed for Norway, for the invasion of Norway, which would have beenwonderful for all the Norwegians that we had with us. It wasa wonderful outfit. We had many of the famous skiers of theday. Tortar Torkel, who unfortunately was killed. He wasthe champion jumper of the country at that time. WalterParker, who had been the coach at Dartmouth, was in themountain troops. Also Berger Torrison from here, fromSalisbury. Ole Hegge was not in the mountain troops, but hewas a man from this area who was well-renowned for hisskiing ability, camping and ail the rest. Berger Torrison wasa wonderful person and we had many great times with him.He was an enlisted man. That didn’t make much differencein the mountain troops. We had some great times inDenver. The Brown Palace Hotel had a wonderful atrium,open, oh I guess ten or twelve stories from the ground up.We’d come down on our skis from the mountains and we’dbring our climbing ropes and lower ourselves over thebalcony, much to the chagrin of the management, of course.Many years later, I had been skiing at Vail and I came backdown, couldn’t get a flight out, so went back to the BrownPalace and I went to the dining room there that we hadoften gone to during the war. I presented myself at themaitre d’s desk and I said, “Would you get us a table for theevening?” He said, “I’m sorry, we’re full up.” So, I gave hima long sob story about having been in the Tenth Mountainand this was the first time I’d been back, which was actuallytrue. He said, “Just a minute.” We ended up at a table nextto Rex Harrison, had a wonderful evening, talking to him. Itbrings back as lot of memories, talking to you about thosedays.
It’s interesting. The skis were made, did you say, in what…How did you describe that building, where Thornhill Flowersis? It was a Quonset hut, wasn’t it?
Where the skis were made?
Yes, back there, back behind….
It was down where the Thornhill Flower Shop is now.
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JS: Which is behind the market.
RH: That’s right. It was a non-descript building of some sort. I’m not sure if it’s still there. There’s a building there, there’s an auto parts building.
JS: Oh! Way back there!
RH: Yes, that’s where their factory was.
JS; When do you suppose it stopped?
RH: Oh, gosh. I’m sure it must have stopped very soon after the war. Because by that time changes in skis were growing rapidly. We were getting into metal skis. I’ll never forget the first metal skis. They were tested up at Catamount. It was like somebody wearing a pair of tin cans on their feet. What a noise, rattling down a slope!
JS: Were they Satre skis, the metal ones?
RH: No, they were not. They were somebody else’s. I forget who invented them, but they were tested there when Jack Fisher had Catamount.
JS: Oh, I remember Jack Fisher and Catamount. That started when?
RH: Well, he had it before the war, but it really blossomed after the war. I was on the so-called ski patrol then. It wasn’t very sophisticated. We brought bodies down on toboggans between our legs. We had a little flag on our ski pole and that was about it. We didn’t know much about first aid, but we got them down. Of course, all that has changed now. It’s become very sophisticated and they have good training.
JS: Reese, when you first went out with the Tenth Mountain, you said you went to… Was it the Aleutians?
RH: Yes, our first, the 87th Regiment, in which Dave and I were, became part of the task force to the Aleutians. We went up there in August of 1943.
JS: Was there fighting there?
RH: There had been, but two days before we got there, apparently the Japanese had evacuated the island by submarine. It’s very foggy up there, miserable conditions, so they were able to get away under cover of bad weather. But we didn’t know that because they had been receiving fire from the Japanese up until a day or so before. Unfortunately, we lost quite a few men from our own fire at that time. We were on top of the ridge. We took over Japanese emplacements on top of the mountains. Kiska was quite far out in the Aleutians toward Japan, miserable spot. And beyond that was Attu, where the Japanese had
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fought very hard and massacred quite a few of our people. So, anyway, we lost quite a few, including one of my best friends.
JS: And Dave was injured there.
RH: He was injured there.
JS: What is this I hear about the fact that Dave was next to Bob Dole? When Dole was injured?
RH: Well, I’m not sure whether that’s true. He was with Colonel Darby, who was beloved by everybody in the Tenth Mountain and Dave, I guess, was quite close to him at the time he was killed. The shell that killed him landed very close to where Dave was, but he didn’t get hurt. Now, I don’t know whether he knew Lieutenant Dole or not.
JS: One of those stories that goes around.
JS: Anything else you want to tell us?
RH: Only that, thinking back to those days when I moved here in 1931 with my family from Geneva, it was a different place than it is now – a very quiet bucolic area, very few young people. If you were looking for a date, there weren’t many young women around in those days. But it was wonderful because all these streets here, as you’ve seen in pictures, had elms growing on them. It’s sad to see those changes, but it has to come, I guess. Then we both went to Hotchkiss, along with my brother, John. And that’s just about it.
JS: You’ve done well. Thank you very much.
RH: You’re welcome.