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Interview With Steve Leonard Ph.D


Before the war, Colorado, like most of the rest of the United States had an element of isolationism. And of course being isolated we were able to enjoy the freedom of fear of invasion. But, when Pearl Harbor came, we reacted quite strongly as did, of course, the rest of the nation. I recall the Denver Post wrote an editorial that said "Japan started it. The United States will finish it."

Colorado responded with considerable patriotism to the war. The state only had 1.1 million people in the early 1940s. Yet, more than 130,000 Coloradans either volunteered or were drafted for service. Nearly 3,500 died in the war. The state did more than that, however; although that was the supreme sacrifice. Scrap drives, "Win with Tin" All sort of efforts even saving junk jewelry so that our troops had something to trade to natives was done by Coloradans in an effort to win the war. Bond drives were, of course, another big part of it.

One of the things Coloradans did was collect junk jewelry. Up in Leadville, they collected 43 lbs. of rhinestones and who knows what so that our soldiers would have something to trade for favors of natives. I suppose to get help to get the fox holes dug in the south seas. Although who knows what that junk jewelry eventually got used for.

Salvage drives were a big part of the war in Colorado. "Win with Tin" was one of the mottos that we had. Even junk jewelry would come in handy. Women were asked to save their costume jewelry so that the troops who were sent to the South Pacific could have something to trade with the natives for services. The Colorado Salvage Newsletter, I recall, said that fifty-two pieces of junk jewelry would purchase a fox hole.

Coloradans responded also to the war by salvage drives. "Win with Tin" was one of the mottos. Junk jewelry also came in handy at salvage time. Women in Colorado were asked to save their costume jewelry so that our troops that were being sent to the South Seas would have something to trade with the natives. According to the Colorado Salvage Newsletter fifty-two foxholes could be purchased for a broach and a pair of earrings.

On the human level the war was a great tragedy. From an economic standpoint, however, wartime expenditures bailed Denver and Colorado out of a very serious depression. Here is Denver money was spent to build the Remington Arms Plant which employed nearly 20,000 people at one point. At 38th and York there was a big medical depot. Fort Logan, Lowry, Buckley Field all had huge expenditures. Rocky Mountain Arsenal made incendiary bombs that killed nearly 83,000 people in Tokyo near the end of the war. I don't think it's generally known but probably more people died because of the incendiary bombs that came out of Denver than because of the atomic bomb on Yiroshima. As tragic as the war was, money counted in Colorado - relocation camps meant building contracts. Air bases in LaJunta and Colorado Springs meant construction contracts. So the war for all of its tragedy and problems meant a great deal to Colorado economically.

During the war the military were everywhere in Colorado or so it seemed to me. I was a child during the second World War. I was much impressed with the soldiers; I was especially impressed with the bombers. Lowry used to fly very low level flights over our neighborhood in south Denver. They were noisy; they were scary and I hid in my sandbox. One of the even crashed not far from our house, a B24 Liberator. I don't really recall that but my father did and he said it was a shocking experience. The pilot aimed for open land so no civilians were killed. I think everybody that lived in Denver at the time or in Colorado has some reminiscence of the war and the tremendous military presence. And of course the tens of thousands of soldiers who were at Lowry and at other bases have the same kind of memories.

Colorado took the service men and women to their hearts. Denver offered lots of entertainment especially downtown movies. I got a list from the Rocky Mountain News most of them will never come back to play at the arts theaters. We have "Her Cardboard Lover" at the Broadway. At the Denham, there's "Holiday Inn". The Denver - "Pied Piper". The Isis had "Two Yanks in Trinidad." At the new Victory you could see "The Star Dust on Sage." The ---- had "Bambi" the Paramount had the "White Serenade". Plaza - "Riders of the West." ---- had a news reel every hour, the Tabor "Ship Ahoy". At neighborhood theaters you could see things like "Remember Pearl Harbor" and "Secret Treasure". So there were plenty of movies. Of course, there was Elitchs. There were USOs. Up in Leadville, I read, that one of the most popular events at the USO was playing marbles. And, Leadville benefitted from the war in that they got a movie, "I Love A Soldier" made in 1943.

Colorado took the service men and women to its heart. There was plenty to do, especially, movies in place like Denver. And, of course, there was Elitchs. I got a list of the movies that were playing in 1943 from the Rocky Mountain News in September. At the Broadway you could see "Her Cardboard Lover", at the Denham, "Holiday Inn". At the Denver - the "Pied Piper," Isis - "Two Yanks in Trinidad," the new Victory offered "Star Dust on Sage", ---- had "Bambi" the Paramount - "The White Serenade" the Plaza - "Riders of the West" and "Rubber Rackateers" R---- had a newsreel every hour, "Rings on Her Fingers" the Tabor - "Ship Ahoy" And then there were the neighborhood theaters - "My Sarong" at the Aladdin. The Bluebird - "Tortilla Flat" at the Cameron "Tarzan's Secret Treasure" "The Egyptian "Tortilla Flat", There were at least another five or ten theaters that service men could frequent here in Denver. And then there were the USOs. Up in Leadville, I read, one of their favorite pasttimes was playing marbles. Maybe they couldn't afford to do too much more in 1943. There were plenty of things for service men to do in Denver and throughout the state.

Leadville got a real bonus out of the war - a movie called "I Love a Soldier" was filmed there. The company had difficulty in doing it because it wasn't cold enough so they had to go about painting frost on the windowpanes.

Camp Hale meant a lot to Leadville. Back in the late 1870s and 1880s it had been one of Colorado's major boom towns. After that it was pretty much down hill for Leadville. Until the early 1940s when defense spending revitalized the mining industry and the construction of Camp Hale meant new life to an old town. Camp Hale cost more than $32 million and that meant thousand of workers in 1942 to construct it, to clear land for it, to do all the work that was necessary. Leadville was so crowded that the sheriff had to offer beds to workers in the jail, except he reserved Saturday nights for the really "bad" guys. One hotel set up cots in the lobby and the banquet room so workers could sleep at a dollar a piece. So, it was boom times once again in Leadville.

The 10th Mountain Division was trained for winter and for mountain warfare. The first taste of action for some of them came in August of 1943 in the Illusion Islands. Unfortunately, faulty intelligence did not allow them to know that the Japanese had already left the --- ----. Our own soldiers wound up firing at each other in the fog think that they were the enemy. Far more important, however, and obviously more glorious, was the work of the 10th Mountain Division in Northern Italy in early 1945, in which they were responsible for spear heading the American drive north to the Poll Valley. At Reiver Ridge and Mount Belvedere they gave their lives, nearly a thousand died.

The ski industry owes a lot to the 10th Mountain Division. Soldiers who saw the beauty and the possibilities of places such as Aspen and the Vail area (Vail did not exist as a ski area at that point) came back after the war to help develop those and other areas in Colorado and even Santa Fe. Abbot Fey, who has written a good book on Colorado skiing, credits the 10th Mountain Division with a big impetus for Colorado skiing after the war. Before the war it really did not amount too much. There wasn't any where near the kind of volume skiing that we had in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s.

Prisoners of war were important to Colorado because we had such a labor shortage especially in farm areas. We had large prisoner of war camps in places such as Colorado Springs for nearly 12,000, in Trinidad and in Greeley. Compared to those places Camp Hale really wasn't that all important - I think there was like 300 prisoners up there to do general maintenance work. Camp Hale does have a distinction that other places lacked. It had one of the better escapes of war. One of the soldiers up there - a man named, Dale Maple, belonged to the 620th Engineers. The Tenth Mountain Division doesn't have to worry about taking discredit for him.

Prisoners of war were important to Colorado because we needed their labor, especially in our farm work. There were large camps, such as, Camp Carson - 12,000. There were camps at Trinidad, many members of the ---- corp wound up there, and at Greeley. Compared to those, Camp Hale was not .......................

Prisoners of war were very important to Colorado because we need their labor, especially in farm areas. There were large prisoner of war camps in Camp Carson, Colorado Springs, in Trinidad where there were members Ron... African corp incarcerated, and up in Greeley. And there were dozen of others. Compared to the big ones, Camp Hale really wasn't that significant. There were maybe 300 prisoners of war doing general maintenance work. Camp Hale does have some claim of distinction because it was from Camp Hale that one of the better escapes, if you could call it an escape of a prisoner of war better, was made. There was man there named Dale Maple, actually a soldier in the 620th Engineers. Maple had been a graduate of Harvard, graduated Cum Laudae. He got kicked out of his ROTC unit because he sang Nazi songs. The army didn't particularly appreciate Maple and I think to keep an eye on him, they assigned him to Camp Hale. It turned out to be a mistake because Maple decided to get some of those prisoners of war out. Actually, he managed to get two of them all the way to the border of Mexico before being apprehended. He was tried, convicted, and sentenced to die but his sentenced was eventually commuted and he served .....

Prisoners of war important to Colorado simply because we needed their labor, especially in farm areas. We had large prisoner of war camps in Trinidad and Colorado Springs at Camp Carson where there were 12,000 and in Greeley. Down in Trinidad some of the elite African corp were incarcerated. Compared to those places, Camp Hale was really not that important a prisoner of war center. They had around 300 doing general maintenance work. But Camp Hale does have a dubious claim to distinction. One of the soldiers stationed there, a man named, Dale Maple, who was not a member with the 10th Mountain Division (so no one need worry about that, he was with the 620th Engineers) had strong pro-German .... He was a graduate cum laudae of Harvard. He had been kicked out of his ROTC unit for singing German songs. The army wanted to keep an eye on him and for some reason assigned him to Camp Hale. He got friendly with the German prisoners of war and helped two of them escape; getting all the way to the border of Mexico before being apprehended. He was tried, sentenced to death but that was later changed. I think he served something like 10 years.

Women in the second world war as they had been in the first world war in Colorado played an important role. As men were taken to war for soldiering jobs, women filled in in industry. In Leadville, for example, I remember reading the fact of women bartenders. Here in Denver in 1943, the Labor Day parade, newspapers commented on the number of women that appeared in the parade, in some cases outnumbering men in various units.

WACS have not yet been given their due in Colorado largely because Monys Hagen did not come here until relatively recently.

The contribution of WACS in Colorado not only at Camp Hale but in the state in general.

WACs made a great contribution to the military in Colorado and throughout the nation in the second world war. Why then don't we read about them as we do about the 10th Mountain Division, about the bombardiers from Lowry Air Force Base. I have asked myself that questions and others have too. I think there are a lot of answers. One is that men have tended to write the history of the second world war. It has been in recent years that women historians have begun to enter the historical profession in large numbers. I think that will help change and regress this balance. It will help restore a very important contribution to the history books

Colorado women played an important part in the second world war as they had in the first world war. As men were taken for soldiering duties, women filled in in industries and many areas. I remember reading an account of the 1943 Denver Labor Day parade, which the the Rocky Mountain News mentioned that women in some units seemed almost seemed as numerous as men. Up in Leadville they were talking about of how women were filling in at the bars as bartenders.

Women played an important role during the second world war as they did in the first world war. As men went off to soldiering duties, women filled in industries and other professions. I remember reading in the Rocky Mountain News an account of a Labor Day parade in Denver in 1943. I would just like to quote, "Women's all-out contribution to the war effort was graphically shown by numbers of women in the line of march. There were women unit after unit and in many there were almost as many women as men."

Women made an important contribution in the WACs at Camp Hale and at other military bases in Colorado. The question I've been asked and I find it difficult to answer is why their contributions have been so ignored. Partly, I think it's because much of the history of the second world war has been written about men, by men, about battles, about the great exploits of the war. In recent years, women historians have been coming into the profession in larger numbers. They're beginning to look at the back-bone of the war; people behind the scenes; the women who did much of the work. They're restoring to the story the story of women and the story of others who have made contributions that won the war.

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