Vale Harless’s family had a history of military service. His father served in the Army during World War I. The Army drafted Harless in the fall of 1943. Harless went to basic training at Camp Wolters, Texas and trained in infantry weaponry. While in training, Harless befriended a fellow draftee who said he requested placement in the 10th Mountain Division. The 10th Mountain Division was based in Camp Hale, Colorado, and trained troops as skiers and climbers to fight in mountain combat. After hearing this, Harless decided he wanted to join the 10th as well.
Before completing basic training in winter 1944, Harless participated in mortar range practice, during which he and his team successfully fired a dozen mortars before he accidentally caught fire. Harless’s face and hands were so severely burned his doctors recommended he be medically discharged from the service, but he refused because he felt it was his duty to fight. After recovering, Harless went to Colorado and joined the 10th Mountain Division. Soon after, he deployed to Europe.
Harless and his unit first landed at Naples, but then quickly moved on to the mountains north of Pisa. When they arrived there, Harless recalled that they heard Axis Sally, a woman hired by the Germans for radio propaganda, on the radio that night. He recalled her saying “Welcome, Blue Dogs of the 10th. You always think you are sneaking in there and nobody knows who you are. The 10th Mountain Division, 85th and 86th and 87th regiments…You know the old stories, see Naples and die. Well, you boys have seen Naples and now you are going to die.” After the broadcast, the Germans opened fire on Harless’s division and kept up artillery fire throughout the night.
While at the front, Harless’s limbs froze and he went to a hospital to prevent frostbite and loss of his feet. After he recovered, he returned to the front and while traveling in the Apennine Mountains, Harless was wounded in the leg, and then later hit with shrapnel. He was sent to the 64th General Hospital in Leghorn and stayed there until the German surrender in May 1945.
After arriving in the U.S., Harless returned to Colorado to muster with the 10th Mountain Division before he was discharged in the fall of 1945. During his service in Europe, Harless earned three Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star Medal.
Upon returning to Indiana, Harless became a real estate agent. He also served as a member of the Metropolitan Board of Realtors.
Harless passed away in May 2007.
We honor his service.
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Veterans History Project
This #VeteranOfTheDay profile was created with interviews submitted to the Veterans History Project. The project collects, preserves, and makes accessible the personal accounts of American war Veterans so that future generations may hear directly from Veterans and better understand the realities of war. Find out more at http://www.loc.gov/vets/.
Additional writer: Sarah Concepcion
Fact checker: L.Rebeca Ahring
Graphic artist: Sarah Kowalewski