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Alphonse Waverek - Personal Communication
Phone conversation, 19 December 2007I spoke to Alphonse Waverek on the phone, taking notes by hand. Growing up in Minnesota, Alphonse and his brother Anthony ("Tony") Waverek had some skiing experience before World War II. Tony was a couple years older than Alphonse. In 1938, during the Depression, the two brothers took a train out west and enlisted in the army. Alphonse was only 15 years old when he enlisted. The rules said that a 17 year-old could enlist with permission from his parents. Alphonse lied about his age, and his parents eventually granted the necessary permission, so he got in. He was assigned to the 15th Infantry Regiment at Fort Lewis, Washington. The 15th Infantry was an old-line regiment that had recently returned from China.
to Lowell Skoog
In the winter of 1940-41, the 15th Infantry was ordered to create an experimental ski patrol made up of volunteers. Alphonse volunteered for the patrol, which had about 20 men as he recalled. Lt. John Woodward was the ski instructor for the unit. Alphonse thought Woodward, former captain of the University of Washington ski team, was one of the best instructors in the country at the time. The men learned to ski on the ropetows at Paradise on Mt Rainier. Alphonse recalled that most, but not all, of the men in the 15th Infantry patrol had some skiing background. Reese McKindley was one of the oldest men in the unit, with a long service in the army. He was not a skier to begin with, but he learned fast. Ralph Morgan was not a very experienced skier, and he was slower than the rest of the men. They nicknamed him "Snowshoe Pete."
I was interested in the ski trip made by the 15th Infantry along the Cascade Crest south from Snoqualmie Pass. Alphonse said that the trip ended near Mt Rainier, but he wasn't sure exactly where. John Woodward led the trip, which involved difficult route finding. The Cascade Crest south of Snoqualmie Pass was forested at that time, not extensively logged as it is today.
One of the main goals of the trip was to test dehydrated rations, which were newly developed and rather primitive. The men wanted to shoot game to supplement their rations, but they were forbidden to do it. They were supposed to eat only what they carried in their packs. When they arrived at the end of the trip, they unloaded their packs to make an inventory of the dehydrated food, since the army knew exactly how much they started out with. A mouse tried to steal some of the food then, and it was the only game they saw on the whole trip.
An airplane flew over each day during the trip to check on them. Since they were very isolated, the army was worried about what would happen if one of the men got hurt. The men used signal panels to communicate with the airplane. Alphonse remembered that one day the plane flew over several times, then dropped a message cannister with a long streamer. The message said that the pilot couldn't understand what what the coded panels meant. Woodward had the men stomp out "OK" in the snow with their skis and the plane tipped his wings in acknowledgment. A photo of the message in the snow appeared in the Seattle P-I.
The ski patrol spent the last night of their trip near a forest cabin. A forest ranger skied up to the cabin to meet them. The ranger invited Woodward into the cabin for a visit. Apparently the ranger had some Bisquick or some such, because he baked some biscuits and the aroma just about drove the men in the patrol mad. They couldn't eat any of the biscuits because they were restricted to rations they had carried. On the last day they skied down a snow covered road and were picked up by army trucks. Alphonse thought it might be possible to figure out where they came out of the mountains if one could research where there were roads and cabins near Mt Rainier in those days.
Alphonse was at Paradise on Mt Rainier with the 87th Mountain Infantry Regiment during the winter of 1941-42. The 87th spent most of their time learning to ski and didn't do extended trips like the 15th Infantry ski patrol had done. Alphonse went to Kiska in the Aleutians with the 87th Regiment. The Japanese evacuated 10,000 troops onto battleships and slipped them past the U.S. Navy just days before the Americans landed. Had the Japanese not evacuated the island, Alphonse thought his unit would have suffered terrible casualties. They landed at a spot with almost no beach and with fortified Japanese positions overlooking the shoreline.
Tony Waverek was killed in France during the war. Alphonse had felt guilt about coming home when so many others didn't. "If I had done a better job [as a soldier]," he said, "I probably wouldn't have come back myself."
Alphonse lived near St Cloud, Minnesota after the war and he continued skiing. They organized citizens cross-country races in the St Cloud area. In the 1970s, he started a Torger Tokle memorial race to honor the famous ski jumper and 10th Mountain soldier killed during the war. The race ran for about 12 years, but ended when a landowner decided not to allow the course to run across his land.
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