Early Life

College

Start of War

Segment stub for 24651

Mountain Training

Illnesses

Brother Paul

Training in 1943

Friendship

Dealing with Death

Overseas Deployment

Silver Star Action

War Experiences

Reflections on Italy

Returning Home

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Ralph F. Lafferty was born in December 1918 in Portland Oregon. He had to older brothers, but one of them died of Hodgkin's disease [Annotator's Note: a type of cancer] in 1940. Lafferty's father grew up in Missouri but moved to Oregon for his job. He later built his own grocery firm. The family made it to Eugene [Annotator's Note: Eugene, Oregon] in 1928 because one of Lafferty's brothers went to college there. Prior to moving to Eugene, Lafferty's family moved to a farm in Oregon, where he learned a lot about living off the land. He loved to go to the beach and hiking with his brothers. He enjoyed camping and skiing. One of his brothers taught him how to ski. He looked up to his oldest brother, who taught him many of the things he did later in life. Lafferty wanted to be a cowboy when he grew up. He worked at a stable and enjoyed riding horses. He was a small kid, but he was able to exercise the horses. He worked there through high school.

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After high school, Ralph F. Lafferty went mountain climbing with his brothers. During that summer, he worked at a ranch near one of the mountains he climbed. He also worked as a shepherd at a nearby ranch. He lived in a tent wagon. Lafferty enjoyed the job because it allowed him to be outdoors. He used his earnings to get more outdoor equipment. Lafferty began studying at the University of Oregon [Annotator's Note: in Eugene, Oregon] in 1937. He started working for his father's firm, along with his brothers. His father taught him about getting his work done before having fun. Lafferty's middle brother, Edward, was a natural athlete and was good at everything he did. The brothers did many activities together, but eventually Edward's disease made him slow down. Every man that attended the University of Oregon had to do two years of military training. Lafferty swam on the swim team and worked at the local beach as a patrolman. Lafferty's brother died the spring that Lafferty graduated from college. Lafferty went to Hawaii to learn how to surf. He studied business administration in school and decided to go into his father's business. While in Hawaii, he stayed with families of his fraternity brothers and traveled around the islands. After his brother died, Lafferty would body surf with his oldest brother anytime he could. They could hitch hike easier in those days because they would wear their college letter jackets.

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In 1936, Ralph F. Lafferty's oldest brother decided to join the military and worked with the CCC [Annotator's Note: Civilian Conservation Corps]. President Roosevelt [Annotator's Note: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 32nd President of the United States] had already created the CCC and WPA [Annotator's Note: Works Progress Administration]. Lafferty would ride WPA trucks to get up mountains to ski. The CCC camps were built and run by the Army. He worked in various places with the CCC. Lafferty visited his brother while he worked in the CCC camps. Closer to the start of the war, Lafferty's brother was assigned to a regular infantry unit. By that time, there was interest within the military to look at mountain troops. Minot Dole [Annotator's Note: Charles Minot Dole], who became a friend of Lafferty, was in charge of the US Ski Patrol [Annotator's Note: National Ski Patrol or NSP], and lobbied the President and Army to create special mountain troops. Lafferty heard rumors of that unit through his brother, who joined the unit. Lieutenant John Woodward was the executive officer of Lafferty's brother, who commanded the patrol. The patrol consisted of 29 men. They spent the winter of 1939 at Mount Rainier [Annotator's Note: in Washington State]. Lafferty was returning from a ski trip when he heard about the attack on Pearl Harbor [Annotator's Note: the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on 7 December 1941] from a bartender friend at the university bar. His friend was from Hawaii and was worried about his parents. Lafferty was already a second lieutenant in the Army Reserves at the time. After Pearl Harbor, Lafferty tried to apply to the ski patrol, but was told to report to a National Guard unit from Arkansas that was being sent to Alaska. When he arrived at Fort Lewis [Annotator's Note: Fort Lewis, Washington], his brother looked into his assignment from a Washington D.C. friend. Late that year, Lafferty was reassigned to a unit in the 87th Infantry [Annotator's Note: 87th Mountain Infantry Battalion]. The unit was made up of all volunteers and was highly specialized. Lafferty thinks one of the reasons the unit did so well in the war was because of the amount of West Point [Annotator's Note: United States Military Academy in West Point, New York] officers that volunteered for the unit. There was a stigma that the unit was made up of college kids looking for a ski weekend.

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At Camp Hale [Annotator's Note: Camp Hale, Colorado], Ralph F. Lafferty learned rock climbing, how to climb mountains, how to spot other climbers, and how to use climbing equipment. Lafferty was the head of the regimental [Annotator's Note: 86th Mountain Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division] ski school. He taught everyone in the outfit how to ski. They would spend two weeks in the field doing war maneuvers. They had to make their own bivouacs [Annotator's Note: temporary camp without tents or cover] in the field. Lafferty used to make a bed from ferns then sleep with all of his clothes in his sleeping bag. Anything that he did not want frozen, he put in his bag with him. He learned how to be self-sufficient. The unit lost many men because of trench foot [Annotator's Note: immersion foot syndrome] and frostbite. Midway through exercises, they would gather in a building to debrief, then go back into the field. Lafferty also got time on the rifle range and the men learned how to use mortars and flamethrowers. At one point, Lafferty ran the K-9 [Annotator's Note: dogs] division of his unit. He usually worked with maps and reconnaissance work. Lafferty thought he was well equipped and thought the unit was well equipped. He attended officer schools at Fort Benning [Annotator's Note: Fort Benning, Georgia]. He practiced with German equipment as well. At Fort Benning, he was allowed to try every weapon they had and learned how to defuse mines. In combat, he was pinned down in a minefield, so his training came in handy. The cold did not negatively affect the weapons he used. He did not think the clothing was adequate. He initially wore heavy ski pants that made him sweat too much. While in Italy, all the men wore normal OD [Annotator's Note: olive drab] sweaters. Local women would take them apart are re-stitch them with warmer material. Some of the men had a regular carbine rifle [Annotator's Note: .30 caliber M1 semi-automatic carbine], but others carried whatever weapon they wanted. Lafferty witnessed a large-scale artillery and small arms strike right before the final drive into the Po River Valley [Annotator's Note: northern Italy]. He was wounded that day but witnessed machine gunners continuously changing out their barrels. He saw air strikes and naval gunfire as well. After he was wounded, he stayed in hospital and was told about the end of the war by friends. During the barrage, he was assaulting Rocca di Roffeno [Annotator's Note: Rocca di Roffeno, Italy]. He served in the 2nd Battalion, 86th Infantry Regiment [Annotator's Note: 2nd Battalion, 86th Mountain Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division]. He moved forward with the 1st battalion so he could map out the area for his unit. One time, he rode on a tank into a town. He saw a lot of action in a short time.

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Ralph F. Lafferty believes his training maneuvers went well. They simulated battle across a mountain pass around Camp Hale [Annotator's Note: Camp Hale, Colorado]. The point of the battle was to practice moving men across mountains and to try and hold territory. They were constantly in deep snow. While in Europe while being shelled, soldiers would say it was not as difficult as the mountain maneuvers. There were many casualties from cold and frostbite. People from Washington D.C. would come out to supervise the maneuvers. He thinks the maneuvers were good practice for the assault at Riva Ridge [Annotator's Note: Battle of Riva Ridge, Apennine Mountains, Italy, 18 to 25 February 1945]. They put on a good show for the visiting Army staff. One man was incapable of turning on his skis. After his ski accident, Lafferty worked with a mountain training group. He was the liaison officer for the regiment [Annotator's Note: Lafferty was a member of 2nd Battalion, 86th Mountain Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division] and Warner Brothers [Annotator's Note: Warner Bothers Studios], who wanted to make a propaganda film about the unit. There were actors sent to make the films. Lafferty did some double work for the film and helped the actors on the mountains. There were trains that would regularly go through the area, making the air difficult to breathe. Many soldiers suffered from a cough or worse from the air quality caused by the trains. Some people suffered from elevation sickness. One thing Lafferty did was rewrite a manual, changing how many steps someone should make per minute in the snow. He also had to work with the weight of a pack someone should carry.

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Ralph F. Lafferty did not get to see his brother often, despite being in the same regiment [Annotator's Note: Lafferty was a member of 2nd Battalion, 86th Mountain Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division]. After a few assignments at different camps, his brother was sent to the staff college [Annotator's Note: United States Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas]. When the unit went overseas, his brother was the G-2 [Annotator's Note: intelligence officer] for the division with the rank of lieutenant colonel. Due to a hernia surgery, his brother did not join the unit overseas, instead he went to China. He acted as an instructor for Chiang Kai-Shek [Annotator's Note: Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek was the leader of the Republic of China between 1928 and 1975] and his army. He was disappointed not to be with the mountain troops because he helped recruit so many officers. He did not always do things the Army way, which irritated the regular army men. His brother was told to build a mess hall how the Army wanted it built. However, he decided to build it the way he would build a warehouse for the family grocery. His superior officer was mad at him until other people saw how good the different design was. The Army was slow to change its manuals.

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In 1943, elements of Ralph F. Lafferty's unit [Annotator's Note: 2nd Battalion, 86th Mountain Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division] was trained to go to Kiska [Annotator's Note: Kiska Island, Aleutian Islands, Alaska]. By the time they arrived at the island, the Japanese had evacuated. Many of the casualties suffered from the unit were from friendly fire. The men were scared, and the island was very foggy. Lafferty was not at Kiska, but his friends told him about their experiences. One of his friends, who commanded a company there, told him about the island. Lafferty remembered the song the men made about Kiska. They thought it was a bit of a joke because there were no enemies on the island. One lieutenant wrote to his brother saying he thought the unit was good, but wanted to see action, not ski. Lafferty spent 1942 training in various locations around the country. In 1943, he was at Camp Hale [Annotator's Note: Camp Hale, Colorado]. By then, the men were getting restless, but the Army did not know where it wanted to send the specialized mountain troops. Eventually, Mark Clark [Annotator's Note: US Army General Mark Wayne Clark] said he could use them in the Apennines [Annotator's Note: mountains in Italy that made up part of the German Gothic Line]. The men found it insulting when they went to train in Texas, thinking they were being trained to be regular infantry. In reality, they were doing maneuvers with those troops. When Warner Brothers [Annotator's Note: Warner Brothers Studio] went up to make movies in the mountains about the mountain troops, the men had to move the equipment for the movie makers. They used jeeps to get the equipment up the mountains and a toboggan [Annotator's Note: sled] to get the equipment down. On the way down, the second rider on the toboggan fell off, but Lafferty did not know it until he wanted the sled to slow down. People liked to get duty on the film production. One of the actors was a major action star of the day.

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One of Ralph F. Lafferty's friends had been a ski instructor before the war. He was a wonderful skier, and they became very close friends. They spent many days skiing together in various mountain ranges. By the time they went overseas, the two of them and another man shared a train car that brought them to Virginia. The three men went overseas together but were not in the same unit. The night before his friend was killed, they were attacking a hill. The following day, they would move forward, and Lafferty's battalion [Annotator's Note: 2nd Battalion, 86th Infantry Regiment , 10th Mountain Division] would take over the position. Lafferty moved up to the forward movement to do some work and saw dead bodies everywhere. While in an observation post, an officer demanded the bodies be removed. Lafferty's friend was nearby in a slit trench, so Lafferty went to visit him. Shells started falling in the area, so everyone started covering themselves. A piece of shrapnel hit an officer next to Lafferty. Lafferty went back down the hill and gave a report to his commander. The following day while on his way back up the hill, more shells started falling. He was told that a shell that hit nearby killed his friend, Ralph. [Annotator's Note: Lafferty shows emotion.] He described that as the longest day of his life. He was later told by a chaplain that his friend was saying The Lord's Prayer [Annotator's Note: a Christian prayer] when he was killed. His friend was very funny. [Annotator's Note: Lafferty sings some songs his friend made up.] He would write a song for every new officer that came into the unit. He was a very musical person and played several instruments. They would take turns driving to and from mountain ranges and skiing. Near Loveland Pass [Annotator's Note: in Colorado], there was a little town they would visit for breakfast. Ralph liked to play the piano in the restaurant. They would then go skiing near the lodge. They were given a local drink and Ralph would ask for cigarette from locals. Ralph never bought the drinks for the group of men, except for one time.

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While in a troop car going across the country, Ralph F. Lafferty shared a car with his friends Ralph and Duke. Lafferty was expecting his first child to be born soon. The three men discussed the name for the child. They chose the name Dale for a girl's name. He was later told the child was a girl and named Georgette, after her grandfather. They also discussed what they would do after the war. Lafferty wanted to go to work for his father. Ralph decided he would not make it through the war, which the other two thought was a bad attitude. Ultimately, Ralph died in combat. One of the company commanders became friends with Lafferty. They did many things together including climbing the Tower of Pisa [Annotator's Note: in Pisa, Italy]. When they were going into battle, Lafferty's friend told him he did not want to take the company into battle. He told the colonel who ordered the other officer to go into battle. The officer was killed the following day in his observation post. At a reunion, Lafferty and the colonel discussed that night. Both men had guilt over it. During the whole war, Lafferty said he would not die, including when he was wounded. While in a position, Lafferty's unit [Annotator's Note: 2nd Battalion, 86th Infantry Regiment , 10th Mountain Division] had surrounded a small town. There was a fountain in the town center. When a German soldier went to get water, the soldier was shot. Immediately, the Germans started firing back. The Americans took over the town and found out the dead German was actually an Italian woman in a German uniform. Lafferty thinks she was used as a decoy. A young Native American soldier in the attacking platoon murdered a group of POWs [Annotator's Note: prisoner of war] instead of taking them to a POW compound. The soldier could barely speak afterwards. Lafferty interviewed the soldier, then met with the colonel, who decided not to issue a court martial. While at Camp Hale [Annotator's Note: Camp Hale, Colorado], the troops were trained to hate their enemy. Lafferty did not subscribe to that training. He did not hate the enemy but would not hesitate to kill them to keep himself alive. One sergeant was eager to go overseas and fight. Lafferty heard him often say he wanted to kill Germans. At Riva Ridge [Annotator's Note: Battle of Riva Ridge, Apennine Mountains, Italy, 18 to 25 February 1945], the unit was being shelled. After the first shelling, the sergeant lost his mind and was sent to the rear.

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Ralph F. Lafferty traveled across the United States by train until he arrived at Newport News [Annotator's Note: Newport News, Virginia]. There was a party before they set sail. One of the men was an amature magician and planned on doing an act. Lafferty played the straight man in the act. Everyone enjoyed the act. On the ship, the men heard the same song every day. They did exercises on the deck of the ship. Lafferty traveled on the Argentina [Annotator's Note: SS Argentina] and would check the bunk rooms, making sure they were kept tidy. He got seasick one time while he was below deck. Near the Strait of Gibraltar [Annotator's Note: in the Mediterranean Sea], RAF [Annotator's Note: Royal Air Force] fighters greeted the ship. He could see Africa and Spain from the ship deck. Lafferty arrived in Naples [Annotator's Note: Naples, Italy] on Christmas Eve, 1944. Children greeted the soldiers asking for money. Lafferty traveled up to Livorno, Italy, by steam ship. The ship was not large enough to have a bathroom. After landing, the soldiers moved to Pisa [Annotator's Note: Pisa, Italy]. Lafferty knew he was near the frontline, but not too close. The men had to dig foxholes, which they did not like until an enemy plane strafed the area. Soon, they were trucked up to the frontline in the Apennines [Annotator's Note: Apennine Mountains in Italy]. During the winter, the lines did not move much. Lafferty relieved the 92nd Infantry Division, ate lunch with them, learned about the area, and then took over. He also relieved a British unit, whose commanding officer thought the war was a good sport. The first time he came near enemy fire was when he relieved the 92nd Infantry Division. While in Lucca [Annotator's Note: Lucca, Italy], he took over a nice house that had been the home of one of Hermann Goering's [Annotator's Note: German Reichsmarschall Hermann Wilhelm Göring, or Goering, commanded the German Air Force and was second only to Adolf Hitler in the Nazi chain of command] mistresses. A professor in the town offered to teach some of the Americans Italian, including Lafferty. Lafferty became a local hero while looking for a billet for his troops. He entered a school, and the kids were excited to be out for class while the Americans were in town.

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Ralph F. Lafferty took over a company that had been pinned down. The original officer had been wounded in the face and could not talk. While in the observation post, he started planning how to get the company free of the trap. Suddenly, the group was hit with mortar and machine gun fire. He was knocked to the ground but said aloud that he would not die. A wounded sergeant tried to help Lafferty because he could not move. He could not be moved, and found he had shrapnel in his arm. He bandaged himself up and kept moving his men up the hill. A nearby soldier stepped on a mine which blew more shrapnel into Lafferty. The platoon managed to make it up the hill and move forward. A medic finally made it to Lafferty and gave him some morphine. They carried him in a makeshift stretcher through a minefield and German POWs [Annotator's Note: prisoner of war] brought him into the aid station. In the station, Lafferty was visited by a friend, who drove him to a hospital. Lafferty was operated on in the hospital, which was a converted school building. The same surgeon operated on another friend of Lafferty, who had similar wounds to him. He practiced the accordion to help heal one of his finger wounds. He had phantom pains in one of his feet. A year or two later, Lafferty went mountain climbing with someone. He went to grab his old combat boots and found a piece of shrapnel in the inner heel of the shoe. He was wounded near Rocca di Roffeno [Annotator's Note: Rocca di Roffeno, Italy]. Years after the war, Lafferty went to a bank to open a bank account. The man that helped him was the man that guarded him while German POWs brought him into an aid station after being wounded.

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Senator Dole [Annotator's Note: Robert Joseph Dole; American veteran and politician] had been in the same division, but different regiment from Ralph F. Lafferty. He met Dole but did not know him. Dole was sent to the division as a replacement because the casualties were so high. Lafferty remembered it being scary to go into some of the liberated towns. He would get new clothes in some of the towns. They were apprehensive because the division had a reputation as a bunch of college kids. However, the unit also had good training, allowing the men to take and hold all of their objectives. Lafferty called the unit a ski club and had good friends, but the men always did their jobs. He thought it was a great unit to be in. The 86th [Annotator's Note: 86th Mountain Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division] and 87th Regiments [Annotator's Note: 87th Mountain Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division] went up to Riva Ridge. Lafferty's battalion [Annotator's Note: 2nd Battalion, 86th Infantry Regiment , 10th Mountain Division] was on Monte Gorgolesco [Annotator's Note: Monte Gorgolesco, Italy]. [Annotator's Note: Lafferty looks at a map to point out where he was.] One day, he took a small plane ride over the area he served in. While working for Wall Street [Annotator's Note: New York Stock Exchange], Lafferty met the brother of someone he served with. The two men got together occasionally after the war. Twenty years after the war, Lafferty was traveling in Europe with a group. While in Italy, Lafferty realized that he was close to where he was wounded. Lafferty had to move people out of their homes while the war was in the area. He constantly had to keep civilians from returning. The local people liked the Americans. The Italians would give the Americans wine instead of water. Lafferty thought the Italian civilians were very nice. Once, Lafferty was walking around an area that had been the scene of a battle. He jumped into a foxhole and landed on a dead German. When he made it to the company area, Lafferty saw a German soldier in a trench. He told a medic about the German soldier who was wounded. Later, he ran into the medic who told him the German had died, but he took the dead man's watch.

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Ralph F. Lafferty wrote to his wife during the war. While on leave [Annotator's Note: an authorized absence for a short period of time] in Rome [Annotator's Note: Rome, Italy], he met some journalists. He tipped people with cigarettes, which went a long way. He communicated with his rudimentary Italian. His letters home were censored. He was not allowed to write where he was or what he was doing. Lafferty censored his men's letters and read some amazing stories. He was not constantly fighting. Along the coast, soldiers started going swimming, unfortunately they were killed when mines detonated. Lafferty loved Italy. It was a beautiful country, and the locals were nice. The patrols would go out with skis. Sometimes patrols from both sides would pass each other. Sometimes soldiers would be cooking potatoes in the camps. Lafferty enjoyed going for a bath and getting new clothes. When his unit was going to move, Lafferty would move up first to look over the area.

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Ralph F. Lafferty was shipped back home after being wounded. He departed through the port at Naples [Annotator's Note: Naples, Italy]. He was at the 24th General Hospital then the 70th General Hospital before being shipped back to the United States. He came in at Newport News [Annotator's Note: Newport News, Virginia], and then took a train to Denver [Annotator's Note: Denver, Colorado]. One of his friends joined him for a few weeks in Denver. He returned to New York [Annotator's Note: New York, New York], where he got a job working in the stock trade. He traveled often during the 12 years he lived there. He eventually moved to Oklahoma, where he started his own business, then sold it to a bigger company. Anytime the company did anything involving skiing or climbing, Lafferty took control of the project. He worked there for 25 years. After the war while working in New York, people would take him skiing. He knew many of the skiers around the country because many of them were in Lafferty's unit [Annotator's Note: 2nd Battalion, 86th Infantry Regiment , 10th Mountain Division]. One summer, he planned a trip to Aspen [Annotator's Note: Aspen, Colorado] where they were having a sheriff's sale. He wanted to buy some land but did not get any during the sale.

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