Technical Sergeant Ralph J. Townsend was born in Lebanon, NH. He graduated from Lebanon High School and became a student at the University of New Hampshire. Not only was he a four-event skiing star at UNH, but he was also a cadet in the Army ROTC program. His college career was interrupted by service in World War II.
TSgt Townsend was a soldier in the Army’s 10th Mountain Division. He was a squad leader in the third platoon of K Company, 8th Regiment. The10th Mountain Division knew him as a dynamic and dedicated soldier, a companion whose qualities of loyalty and courage set examples for other men during long years of training, the difficult Kiska episode, and devastating combat in Italy. In March 1945, K Company led the attack on the steep hill of Cimon della Piella. During the attack, TSgt Townsend was seriously wounded. He received the Purple Heart for artillery wounds suffered in northern Italy, and doctors said he would not be able to ski competitively again.
He overcame his war injuries to compete at the 1948 Winter Olympics games in St. Moritz and to win the national Nordic skiing championship in 1947 and 1949. He demonstrated again the team spirit, strength, and tenacity that inspired so many. He received his Bachelor of Science degree in 1949 and his Master of Science degree in 1953, both from the University of New Hampshire.
Ralph Townsend began his career at Williams College in 1950 as assistant professor of physical education, head coach of skiing, and assistant coach of football and lacrosse. During his 22 years as a ski coach, his teams regularly placed among the best in the nation. He also directed the Williams Outing Club, often the largest organization on campus, for 25 years. He became a legend at Williams, where he almost single-handedly brought the college into ski prominence as coach and built the Berlin Mountain ski area that the college later named for him. Each year since 1959, Williams has awarded the Ralph J. Townsend Ski Trophy to "the men's varsity skier who best exhibits the qualities of sportsmanship, competition, and team spirit."
As the secretary of the U.S. Olympic Ski Games Committee, Ralph Townsend helped select the U.S. ski teams for the 1960 and 1964 games. He also served as director of the U.S. Eastern Amateur Ski Association in 1951, president of the Eastern Intercollegiate Ski Association from 1958 to 1960, and secretary of the NCAA Ski Rules Committee in 1962.
In recognition of his career as both competitor and coach, he was named to the National Ski Hall of Fame in 1975. In 1982, he was the first recipient of the Eastern Intercollegiate Ski Association's highest honor, the Service Award.
In May 1988, at the age of 66, TSgt Townsend died and was buried at Williams College cemetery. William's President Francis Oakley said: "Of his courage and extraordinary talent, Ralph Townsend made very little. But for countless Williams students, he was skiing and the Outing Club. And to those colleagues and friends who know him well, he brought an instinctive affection, a spontaneous sense of humor, and the witness of a deep and unaffected faith."
For outstanding service to the United States Army, the US Ski team and college ski community is inducted into the ROTC Hall of Fame.