HELENA — Dave Armstrong of Helena, the last remaining member of Camp Rimini during World War II and co-founder of Race to the Sky, has passed away at the age of 100.
"He was an amazing guy," said his son Mark Armstrong. "His dogs and his service in Camp Rimini and then in Newfoundland, that formed his life and his whole reason for being. That's who he was."
Dave Armstrong came to Montana in 1943 in a train car full of sled dogs bound for Camp Rimini.
At the time, Camp Rimini housed about 800 sled dogs, 100 pack dogs, and 125 soldiers. The dogs were being trained for the Invasion of Norway mission in World War II. Camp Rimini was one of just two camps with the dog training program.
Dave’s duty at the camp was to train the dogs, but the Invasion of Norway ended up being canceled. The dogs and soldiers at Camp Rimini transitioned into search and rescue teams for planes downed in winter and arctic climates.
“He had an amazing life,” said Mark. “You think what he did with his dogs. He moved a radio station over the course of 10 days up Table Mountain in Newfoundland with just straight-up dog teams.“
Mark said his father always told him of how steep the climb that the sled teams would make two or more times a day at 1,000 pounds a load.
“I took him back to Newfoundland when he was 86 and we walked up to the top of Table Mountain. He walked every single step and it was just as steep as he said,” recalled Mark.
In 1986, the retired Armstrong helped found Montana's Governor's Cup Sled Dog Race to honor the dogs and soldiers of Camp Rimini. That race would later become the annual Race To The Sky.
He competed in the race into his 80s and remained a mentor for many mushers in the decades following.
In March, U.S. Sen. Steve Daines recognized Armstrong before Congress for his service to his country and state.
The veteran was joined by family and friends at his home on the west side of Helena for the occasion where the senator’s staff presented him with a copy of the congressional record and a challenge coin from the senator.
Armstrong passed at his home Tuesday evening.
In lieu of flowers, the Armstrong’s family asks that people make a donation to the Montana Military Museum.
Plans are also in motion to build a memorial at the site of Camp Rimini later this year.