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George Senner - Personal Communication
Taped interview, 15 June 2001
by Lowell Skoog
George Senner joined the Mountaineers in 1938 or 1939. After World War II he remained active in the 10th Mountain Division Association but not the Mountaineers. In the spring and summer of 1942 he was a fire lookout at Anvil Rock on Mt Rainier. He remembers being "up in the clouds most of the summer." The War Department was concerned about Japanese planes near the West Coast, so he also served as an intelligence observer. He reported his observations in code every day on a radio that didn't work very well. There was also a single-wire telephone line running from Paradise to Anvil Rock. You can still see remnants of it today. Meltwater on warm afternoons often caused the telephone line to short out.
From Anvil Rock George could sometimes see mountain troops training below. There was an encampment near Reflection Lakes and he could see soldiers moving about on skis at times. One day a guy wearing army clothes came down from Camp Muir on skis and said that his buddy had fallen into a crevasse. This was Bob Parker, later a founder and long-time V.P. of the Vail ski resort. Senner and Parker ran back up to Camp Muir to help. They found that Parker's companions had pulled the fellow out of the crevasse by tying their canvas ski socks together. (He was down 25 to 30 feet.)
Back at the Anvil Rock lookout, Parker fixed George's finicky radio and said, "You know you're going to be drafted one of these days. Why don't you join the mountain troops?" George decided to enlist and got his three letters of recommendation. Many of his buddies signed up for the mountain troops around the same time. George applied in the fall of 1942 and was accepted in December. He was told to report for duty in February 1943 at Camp Hale, Colorado. He started in the 87th Mountain Infantry Regiment but eventually moved to the Intelligence and Reconnaissance (I&R) unit in the Headquarters Company of the 85th Regiment. Each regiment had about eight men who went out at night to gather information and find enemy positions. George did that for the 85th in Italy.
George thought that the 15th Infantry ski patrol made a complete ski encirclement of Mt Rainier, but he didn't know the route. He remembered seeing a photo of the patrol above Mowich Lake, at the pass between Mother Mountain and Fay Peak. He thought Bill Butler and John Woodward were along, but wasn't sure of the other personnel. Members of the 87th Regiment climbed Rainier in 1942 and made a training film.
Northwest men in the 10th Mountain Division were often more interested in climbing than skiing. On weekends, George and friends would climb peaks above Camp Hale such as Elbert, Massive, and Holy Cross. Men from New England generally favored skiing and would often head for Aspen on weekends. Aspen was just a mining town in those days and skiers would ride up in ore buckets.
As a member of the 85th I&R unit, George did some ski patrols in Italy in deep snow above Lucca early in the winter of 1945. He said this was on Mt "Shimonay" (Simone?). Skis were cumbersome for patrol work and they quit using them as soon as possible. He scouted Mt Belvedere for the 85th, which led the attack on this objective. George's friend Elvin R. Johnson was wounded in Italy and had a hospital bed next to Duke Watson. Johnson recalled Duke's serious wounds and the daily treatment he received. "Most guys were wounded," recalled George.
After the war ended, George worked for a time as an army ice climbing instructor on the Gross Glockner in Austria. He made the first post-war ascent of that peak in 1945. The army instructors also staged several ski races there. While George was on the Gross Glockner, the army sent up a runner and told the men to come down immediately and report to Florence, where they would be transferred to Naples, return to the U.S., and eventually embark for the invasion of Japan. The war ended while he was crossing the Atlantic aboard ship. He found out later that the 10th Division was to be sent to "Paramachiro" in the Northern Kuril Islands of Japan. "That would have been suicide," said George, "because they had that heavily fortified."
George recalled that the general equipment used by the mountain troops was good, but the mountain equipment was poor. Their skis were made by the Paris furniture manufacturing company and were "like planks." A few better skis were obtained from the Northland ski company. Ice axes were made by the Ames plowshare company. If you wacked an army ice axe into hard ice a few times the head would come off because they had ground the rivets off. Occasionally you'd find a good one that wouldn't break. George saw a lot of G.I. crampons as a ranger at Paradise. If you stomped on them they would almost flatten. G.I. surplus clothing, on the other hand, was excellent. The army produced good wool ski pants with zippered pockets and a mountain jacket with a big pouch in back that you could convert to use like a backpack. By contrast, German mountain troops had excellent equipment and lousy clothing, just the opposite of the Americans.
After the war, George taught for the army's Mountain and Cold Weather Training Center in Colorado for a time. He worked as a ranger and guide on Mt Rainier as well. He didn't guide professionally much, but took many private parties up the mountain, including Washington Governor Dan Evans and candy-maker Julius Boehm, who was the oldest man to climb the mountain at the time.
George kept a diary of his 10th Mountain Division experiences and donated the original to the Colorado Historical Museum in Denver. (I suspect that it ended up at DPL-WHG.)
Conversation, 22 July 2001I had a short conversation with George while returning some materials to him. He mentioned that Andy Hennig was in his unit in the 10th Mountain Division. He recalled that Andy had shown him a "front page article from 1939" describing a ski of the Sulphide Glacier on Mt Shuksan. I asked him for details but he couldn't remember anything more. This is not much to go on, but I will keep a lookout for more information about this.
by Lowell Skoog
George said that Bil Dunaway was involved in an "Eastern Slopes" ski area east of Snoqualmie Pass with Clifford Schmidtke, presumedly in the late 1940s or early 1950s. At one time a ski area was proposed in Commonwealth Basin on Lundin Peak. Dee Molenaar got interested in it and bought some stock in the enterprise, but lost the money.
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