John Tripp skinning up to Pearl Pass in a German Army hat. Courtesy photo

By Ted Frisbie
Special to The Sopris Sun

In response to the National Geographic cover story, “The Last Voices of World War II” (published June 20, 2020), I felt compelled to draw attention to one of our Valley’s last surviving members of the 10th Mountain Division. 

Born July 28, 1919 in Waterbury, Connecticut, John Waldo Tripp first enlisted as an Air Corp Cadet on Feb. 5, 1942. He “washed out’’ by October, but re-enlisted in the 87th Mountain Infantry Regiment nearly immediately after an honorable discharge. This was to become the famed “10th Mountain Division,” but they had no division yet.

He then went to training at Camp Hale near Leadville. His first deployment was to recapture the Aleutian island of Kiska from the Japanese in 1943. Only upon their arrival did they learn that, to everyone’s surprise, the Japanese had left the island about a week previously. Dogs roamed around stacks of nice canned food and coal fires were still burning.

Tripp and his division returned to Camp Hale, where they formally established the 10th Mountain Division. He spent the winter at Camp Hale, and was married to Irene Walker on March 18, 1944. His father sent him a letter telling him he had no mercy for any man who took on “two battles at once.”

Tripp shipped out for Italy just before Christmas in 1944. As Italy had joined the Allies by this time, they fought German troops in the Apennine mountains in Tuscany north of Florence. Tripp became a Platoon Tech Sergeant with a mortar section.

On March 3, 1945, Tripp was shot twice in both legs in the Apennines on Monte Della Vedetta, just overlooking the Po River valley near Bologna. He was taken to a MASH unit in Pistoia (“Where they invented the pistol,” he loves to note,) to recover, and then returned to his company at Lago Garda in early May, 1945, just before V-E Day. Immediately after the war, Tripp stayed in Europe most of the summer, even enjoying ski races in Austria on the Fourth of July!

Upon returning to the United States, he first worked for his wife’s father’s sheet metal factory, installing gutters and furnaces. He eventually owned his own barrel plant in Denver from 1950 to 1971. Upon retiring, he and his wife Irene bought a little corner of land from John Neislanik. “He took my offer when he needed a new truck and his wife was pregnant,” Tripp remembers.

The Tripps would travel to Carbondale each weekend and camp under a leaning tree on their property as he built their “Albergo Paradiso” over the next two years.

In post-war life, they traveled extensively, often with some or all of their four children. They visited all seven continents, but always strongly favored Europe, which they’d toured in younger days. “I was pretty poor in all subjects except geography,” Tripp says. “I love maps.”

I met Tripp at the Carbondale Post Office in the fall of 2018. As was his wont, he had strapped the front wheel of his adult-sized tricycle in the back of his Subaru and trailed it down the bottom of Prince Creek Road (at 98, no less!). From there, he would ride it into town to shop and do errands, then ride back to his car.

We struck up a conversation concerning the state flags he was flying from his tricycle. He was interested in me because my name is “Frisbie,” and he grew up near the Frisbie Pie Company (yes, that one). It reminded him of the motto (perhaps misremembered), “A Frisbie pie without cheese is like a kiss without a squeeze.” Thus began our tradition of collecting, sharing and laughing about idioms and jokes. Visiting Tripp is often like reading the “Laughter, the Best Medicine” page from Reader’s Digest.

He asked me one morning whether I had any metal mesh. Why? He was dealing with a pesky flicker that was drilling a hole just outside his bedroom and keeping him awake. At the time, he was climbing a ladder with his pockets loaded with pebbles, then dropping the pebbles into the hole in his exterior wall in an effort to fill it up, leaving no room for the flicker.

The idea of this man alone at his house on a ladder is what led me to poke around Prince Creek until I found his home, the amazing Italian albergo, and a 20-foot ladder leaning against it! This was the beginning of my regular visits to chat and check on my new and oldest friend.

Tripp lived in that home until last winter. At 101 ½, he was still preparing all his own meals daily. “Someday I’ll make someone a pretty good housewife,” he was heard to quip.

As of today, he has lived in the Heritage Park Assisted Living division for about a year. His mind and hearing are as sharp as ever, but his sight and mobility are starting to hinder him. When he reluctantly agreed to my publishing this article, Tripp asked that I include a message of thanks to all of the people who have called or sent letters to him since he’s moved to Heritage. He can’t respond to every note or call, but has truly appreciated them all.

Husband, father, businessman, tech sergeant, world traveler and lifelong learner, Tripp will turn 103 this July. His life has spanned the Spanish Flu in 1919 to COVID today. He is just about the best conversation partner any person could wish for, with compassion and humor, experiences that span the world and a century — and a flair for jokes, idioms and funny jingles.