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Green Cognac, The Education of a Mountain Fighter

Green Cognac: The Education of a Mountain Fighter. William Lowell Putnam. American Alpine Club Press. New York, 1991. 288 pages, 52 black-and- white photographs, 9 maps. $35.00.

Most books and articles about the 10th Mountain Division in World War II have been written in the third-person, in a style varying from the formal to the pretentious. Bill Putnam’s book, Green Cognac: The Education of a Mountain Fighter, is relaxed, informal and written in the first-person without becoming an “I did this, and I did that” narrative. In the early chapters he tells a story of coming of age, combat in Italy, being wounded, winning a Silver Star and developing his own life-time philosophy.

As an undergraduate at Harvard, Putnam was very active in the Harvard Mountaineering Club, which he credits with giving him a start in mountaineering and blames for keeping him in a happy and almost perpetual state of “on probation.” This all culminated later in mountaineering activities at Camp Hale, Colorado, on the Aleutian Island of Kiska and in the Italian Apennines.

There are many hilarious happenings here. One involves Christmas leave following his return from Kiska when he was too short on money to phone his family to say that he would be arriving on Christmas Day. When he arrived and the doorbell was answered by his little brother, the youngster took one look and retreated, shrieking, “A ghost!, A ghost!”

Not so amusing is his account of Company L’s first action in which he played host to a German shell fragment which is still a nuisance when modem airport security devices cause bells to ring and lights to flash.

Bill Putnam recounts his experiences on Monte Belvedere during the Po Valley pursuit, fighting along Lake Garda and the move into Venezia-Giulia to checkmate Marshall Tito. Throughout these engagements, the chronic mountaineer continued to find opportunities to enjoy his hobby and, best of all, to make it possible for the climbers of his company to do so.

Finally, Bill Putnam summarizes the roles the 10th Mountain veterans have played in developing our American winter and alpine recreation industry as well as what happened to those who returned to more conventional activities. In any event, there seems to be agreement among 10th Mountain veterans that theirtime with the Division in Italy was among their finest moments. By all means, read Green Cognac and enjoy the account of how a young man became a veteran mountain trooper and achieved an education in life.

Albert H. Jackman