The 10th Mountain Division was the second-to-last U.S. division to enter World War II – and the only one that didn’t exist at the start of the war. Activated as the 10th Light Division (Alpine) in 1943, this was the U.S. Army’s answer to the alpine troops of the German, Austrian, Finnish and Italian armies.
To prepare for mountain warfare, the new regiments of the 10th Mountain Division trained in rigorous conditions at the highest altitude points in the continental U.S. – Mount Rainier and the Colorado Rockies. The 10th troops were remarkably fit, recruited from the ranks of professional and Olympic athletes, park rangers, and the nation’s elite skiers at Ivy League schools.
An avid sportsman, Milwaukee native Jacob “Jake” Robert Nunnemacher was drawn to Ivy League Dartmouth College primarily for the skiing and would captain the team his junior year. After graduating in 1942, Nunnemacher was one of 119 Dartmouth alums from 23 classes recruited by the 10th Mountain Division.
Recruits from the 10th Mountain Division trained at Camp Hale in Eagle County, Colorado, where they were acclimated to the high altitude and harsh conditions while learning nordic and alpine skiing, mountain climbing, and winter survival skills. By 1944, the U.S. Army was focusing its attention on the Appenine Mountains in northern Italy.
The first 10th Mountain troops began arriving in Italy in December 1944 and by mid-January 1945, all three regiments were in place. While there was little skiing required, there were in very good shape physically, even if they were not seasoned soldiers. The man in charge of military matters was division commander Major General George Price Hays, a WWI Medal of Honor recipient.
In early March 1945, the 10th cut off the Axis communication and supply routes into the Po River valley, holding a defensive position for three weeks. At 0500 hours on April 14, the 10th Division mounted an offensive on Germans positions north of Mount della Spe in the Apennine Mountains in northern Italy.
By 1000 hours on the 14th, Nunnemacher and the 1st Platoon of Company B had cleared one town and was taking more German prisoners in the town of Torre Iussi while coming under constant sniper fire. While checking a house, Staff Sergeant Jacob Nunnemacher was killed by a sniper bullet. [Read a full account of the 87th Mountain Infantry of the 10th Mountain Division]:
The Germans would surrender in Italy 18 days later on May 2, 1945. Out of 13,000 10th Division soldiers in WWII, 1,000 were killed.
Nunnemacher left behind a wife, Jean, and a young daughter, Heidi. He was the namesake of his great-grandfather, a prominent Milwaukee businessman who immigrated from Switzerland in the 1800s and was best known for building the Nunnemacher Opera House (which he later sold to Capt. Frederick Pabst) and the Nunnemacher Distillery. A patent the elder Jacob licensed in 1887 led to the establishment of Galland Henning Nopak, now in its 133rd year as a Nunnemacher-run family business.
After being deactivated and reactivated multiple times, the modern 10th Mountain Division was reactivated in 1985 as one of the Army’s new light divisions, and the division or part of the division has deployed many times. Since 2001, the 10th Mountain Division has been the most-deployed division in the U.S. Army and is scheduled to deploy again to Afghanistan in 2020. The motto of the 10th Mountain Division is Climb to Glory.
“To many Italians, these memorialized soldiers for which the Division is indebted, are the heroes of the stories they’ve been told since their youth. They are the men who bravely liberated their land and families from oppression.” [Source]
In October 2017, a group of soldiers from the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, 10th Mountain Division (LI) visited this monument on Mount della Spe, near Torre Iussi where Staff Sergeant Jacob Nunnemacher was killed in April 1945. Read more about their return to Northern Italy.(U.S. Army photo/Spc. Thomas Scaggs)