Barbara Lawlor, Peak to Peak. When someone signs an application to enlist in the United States military forces, their life will change. Veterans are often thought of as soldiers who have been sent overseas to engage in combat, to carry a weapon into battle, to drive into the center of a military action against an enemy.
Actually, about 85 percent of the US military personnel are support teams, enabling the combat troops to do their jobs. When their tour is over, these non-combat veterans bring home myriad life changes, some of them a total reversal of where they thought they would be at the end of their enlistment.
Gold Hill resident and veteran Peter Soby looks back on his time in the military and says, his life would have been different had he not joined the service. What he learned as a young man in a non-combat position in the service has been a guiding force in how he has lived his life.
He learned that he wanted to spend his life helping others. That had not been on his mind before he signed the enlistment papers.
Peter grew up on the East Coast, in New Canaan, Connecticut, an only child who attended boarding schools until he entered Williams College as a music major.
When he graduated he no idea what he wanted to do with his life, so he volunteered for the draft. He was sent to Fort Dix for basic training, a facility which had a history of mobilizing, training and demobilizing soldiers beginning in World War I.
After basic training, Peter was placed in battlefield medical training. He was then given the choice of being stationed on the East Coast or sent to Fort Carson, in Colorado Springs.
“I had had enough of the east coast by then and chose Fort Carson, where I was placed in the mountain and cold weather training command. I also learned rock climbing and skiing.”
The training that Peter underwent was descended from the Tenth Mountain Division, which had been resurrected, originally formed to train troops for combat in the Alps during World War II.
Peter took to the mountain training as if this was his destiny. His training ended up helping save a life. In July of 1958, a 35-year-old man from Albuquerque, New Mexico who was on a fishing trip, fell down a cliff and spent five days on a three by four foot shelf in the Conejos Canyon, west of Antonito, Colorado.
Peter, 24 at the time, was a specialist and a member of the army search and rescue team. Another volunteer was lowered 500 feet from the top of the canyon wall to spend the night with the trapped man, who had fallen from a trail on the rim of the canyon. A friend, who had also been on the trek, died when he fell down the cliff. The man had been looking for his missing wallet. He fell 50 feet and then bounced, falling about 800 more feet.
Peter was with the group of soldiers who finally heard the man calling for help. He had not had food for five days and was sucking water off the waterproof covering of his sleeping bag. At night he straddled a small tree and tied his boot laces. The only communication the rescue team had was a short wave radio.
Once they reached the patient, the team realized they didn’t have enough equipment to get the man out, so they sent a skilled climber down to the ledge.
Ultimately, they lowered the man in a wire litter to the bottom of the canyon after helicopter attempts were unsuccessful. The rescue mission was a success.
The Secretary of the Army awarded the Commendation Ribbon with Metal Pendant to Specialist Four Peter Soby AUS, 15th Engineer Battalion. The commendation plaque says he joined the rescue party, walking the sheer face of the mountain to the peak and then made the descent to the victim, 350 feet.
They talked to the victim and prepared the ropes which Peter guided, shouting signals.
“Despite falling rock, steep overhanging cliffs, crumbling terrain and difficulty in maintaining contact with each other, victims were brought to safety after three hours of treacherous work. Highly efficient and exemplary conduct was displayed by Soby in the face of grave danger to himself attesting to his superior soldierly qualities, perseverance, bravery and selfless concern for the safety of the victim at risk of danger to his own person and reflects great credit on himself and military service.”
When Peter’s time in the army was completed, he decided to stay in Colorado, earned a teaching certificate in Latin and French and joined the Arapahoe Basin Volunteer Ski Patrol. He taught Latin and French for 15 years and was a commercial pilot with United Airlines. He went on to teach Latin and French to homeschooled children in the Nederland/Gilpin County area.
Peter also volunteered many mercy missions, flying people in emergency situations who needed to get to a hospital or another location as soon as possible.
“In my time in the service, I learned the concept of others, and of learning skills which ultimately helped other people. I went into the service with no idea of the future and ended up staying in Colorado and teaching when I could and volunteering with the ski patrol.”
Each person who joins the military plays a part in the large plan, the many pieces that fit together to keep other nations and our country safe and protected.
Anything that they trained for will become an asset, a weapon to add to the arsenal of skills that work to keep us free, that can be used to assist others throughout the rest of their lives.
(Originally published in the November 16, 2017 print edition of The Mountain-Ear.)