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Camden woman finds piece of World War II, 10th Mountain Division history in Italy


Looking over the Italian site of 10th Mountain Division and World War II history, a Camden woman found herself humbled.

Days before the end of fighting in Europe in May 1945, a DUKW amphibious vehicle, commonly referred to as a duck, sank in the frigid waters of Lake Garda. Of the 25 10th Mountain Division soldiers aboard, only one survived.

“It’s an awe-inspiring feeling to see the beauty of the Alps, then to think of the horrors that happened there and the Americans that were never recovered,” said Kathleen E. Duerr, a retired elementary school teacher. “You feel like you’re in such a place in history.”

The sinking happened as division forces pursued German fighters in the lake area, near Verona. When enemy units destroyed tunnels through mountains near the northern end of the lake, soldiers were sent into the lake in the six-wheeled amphibious trucks.

One of three DUKW vehicles sent on the night of April 30, 1945, stalled during its journey, and sank after taking on water. The 24 soldiers who died were from the division’s 605th Field Artillery. The lone survivor of the sinking, Cpl. Thomas Hough, died in 2005.

Mrs. Duerr went to Lake Garda as a part of a monthlong trip to Europe with three friends.

She said she is interested in the war because her father-in-law served during the war, and she learned about the downed duck boat after reading about it in her local paper. Exchanging emails with the researchers involved, she set up a meeting during her trip, coinciding with Veterans Day.

“It snowballed from there,” she said.

Standing on the rocky shoreline of the lake decades after the crash, Mrs. Duerr learned that the cold waters that day were made even more treacherous by heavy waves.

“You could see how they couldn’t make it to shore,” Mrs. Duerr said.

Crews had searched for the missing craft for years before it was found with the help of sonar in late 2012 by the volunteer Gruppo Volontari del Garda.

Looking out at Lake Garda, Mrs. Duerr said what she saw reminded her of home.

“It reminds me of one of our Finger Lakes,” she said. “It’s very long, but very thin, but also very deep. It looks like you could swim from one side to the other.”

While she was there, Mrs. Duerr and her friends presented the researchers a number of gifts from her local Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion posts, including license plates, pins and hats.

In addition to the lake site, Mrs. Duerr’s stop included seeing a memorial created for Col. William Darby, the assistant division commander killed during the final days of fighting in Italy, along with a collection of division war memorabilia from the period.

She said many of the Italians she met expressed an appreciation for the American forces who saved their towns and villages.

Mrs. Duerr said she was informed that the researchers planned to extract the vehicle they found from the lake around March.

In addition to extracting the craft, researchers have to confirm whether the DUKW vehicle they found was the one used by the division, or if it was one of two others that sank in that area of the large lake. The assumed tie to the 10th Mountain Division crash is because of the account of a witness to the crash that night.

Before the vehicle extraction can take place, Mrs. Duerr said, she was informed by the researchers that they needed additional help, possibly from the American government.

“I can’t understand why America isn’t helping,” she said.

She may be back soon. Mrs. Duerr said she was hoping to go back when the vehicle is pulled from the lake.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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