Pelted by rain on a wet May afternoon, the statue of the 10th Mountain Division infantry soldier — bronze, clad in a white uniform — stands tall, overlooking Mountain Road from its post at Chuck and Jann Perkins’ home.
An orange BMW motorcycle sits in the driveway, soggy from the morning ride, its rider, Minna Case of West Dover, seated in front of a glowing fire in the den getting to know the Perkinses.
The 13-foot-tall “Ski Trooper” is one of this year’s Tour of Honor sites around the United States honoring American heroes, including veterans and first responders, that will be visited by any of the 753 participating motorcyclists from now through Oct. 31.
The Tour of Honor was founded in 2010 by Steve Brooks of California as a way to get riders together to highlight the country’s heroes.
Riders are asked to visit as many sites as they want within the scheduled time frame — seven in a single state or region to be considered a finisher — and take a photo including the memorial, their bike, their numbered participant flag and themselves to prove they rode there.
The first three riders to visit all of the destinations in a state or region is awarded a trophy.
Case is riding the New England tour, which covers 24 memorial sites — four in Vermont. The New England trophies have already been claimed.
Registration is $100, and each year that money goes to three charities supporting the nation’s heroes.
This year, $20 from each registration will go to Fisher House Foundation — providing homes near Veterans Administration medical centers where families can stay free of charge while their loved one is in the hospital; Operation Comfort Warriors — which sends comfort items to wounded, injured or ill military personnel; and Police and Fire: The Fallen Heroes — supporting the families of fire and police personnel killed in the line of duty.
Although Case is not American by birth — she is from Sweden, but has lived in the States for 27 years — the Tour of Honor has had a profound impact on her, she said.
“Every time I go to these memorials like Arlington (National Cemetery), I cry,” she said.
Stowe’s ski trooper
The “Ski Trooper” is the second Vermont site — along with memorials in Wallingford, Woodstock and Newfane — and honors the 10th Mountain Division.
Inspired by the Finnish Army whose ski soldiers kept the Russian Army at bay in 1939, Charles Minot Dole of Stowe proposed forming a mountain- and snow-trained fighting force.
With approval from the War Department, the division was founded in 1943, and suffered some of the most devastating losses of World War II, with 919 men killed in three months of fighting in Italy. But the 10th succeeded in dislodging German artillery in the mountains.
Don Traynor created the statue to remember those fallen soldiers. Only two exist today — the one in Stowe, and the original in Vail, Colo.
One year, Jann Perkins, who’s on the board of the Vermont Ski & Snowboard Museum, wanted to do something special for the 10th Mountain Division, and found Jean Traynor, who owned the statue mold. Her husband, Don, had just died, and Jean was about to have the mold destroyed when Jann called.
“I just wanted two of the 2-and-a-half-foot statues,” Jann Perkins said. “The large one in Vail, I give a hug every time I go out there — we had a place in Vail. She said, wouldn’t it be nice to have a large one in Stowe?”
Roughly $50,000 later, the bronze statue was on its way to Stowe from Denver in 2003.
The Perkinses originally wanted it to stand in the pocket park by the ski museum, but that fell through because some locals felt it was “too combative because he has a gun,” Chuck said.
For six years the statue stood watch over the Perkins’ home until it was relocated to a plaza at Stowe Mountain Resort in 2010.
When the base lodge went through construction a few years ago, the soldier was taken back down the mountain to the Perkins’ new home, an old inn on the Mountain Road, where Jann says it will stand until the day the couple dies.
The sculpture is restored every three or four years.
10th Mountain comrades
The skier means a lot to the Perkinses, because they own the Alpine Shop in Burlington. Years ago, a ski-wear rep of theirs, Walter Prager, was a member of the 10th Mountain Division.
He never talked about his service, but he was a Swiss Alpine skier who was one of the first to join the 10th Mountain Division. Jann still recalls clearly the first time they met in her shop as he vended his parkas. Jann had no idea who he was other than a sales rep, but Prager took her hand and simply said, “Don’t forget me.”
Later, she found out who he was when she saw the film “Fire on the Mountain” and recognized his name.
After hosting a 10th Mountain Division reunion at the statue about 10 years ago, with nearly 200 members stationed around the statue on the Perkinses’ lawn, Chuck became an honorary member of the 10th Mountain Division.
After Case’s visit, Chuck and Jann were each given a commemorative T-shirt, and Chuck was awarded a challenge coin.
Chuck is a veteran himself. Drafted in 1956 to Fort Sam Houston in Texas, the country was in between wars so he was never deployed, but served his country until 1957.
Brooks picked the 10th Mountain Division skier this year, because the focus of the Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum’s next exhibit, opening this December, will be on the 10th Mountain Division: Then and Now. A Thirsty Thursday discussion about the division will be held at the museum next Thursday, May 31, from 6 to 8 p.m.