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The Story of the 143rd AAA Mobile Gun Bn. and the Battle of the Bulge

The Story of the 143rd AAA Mobile Gun Battalion

and the Battle of the Bulge

Foreword

In memory of my father, a quiet and modest man, Morton Spitz 1917-1965 and to honor the men he served with in the 143rd AAA Gun Bn. The AAA Bn's, far too forgotten in the history books, but remembered by the men who served and their families.

David Spitz

Starting with December 5, 1944 the 143rd began to hear rumors that they were to move forward from their present deployment around Liege to fire on the sites launching the buzz bombs that were landing in and around Liege. Recon parties started leaving the area, coming back with reports of the situation at the front and stories were heard of emplacing the batteries within 1800 yards of German outpost positions.  Finally, on December 14th, the radars of "Hq" and "C" Battery, together with recon elements of all batteries, left to check the battery sites that had previously been selected by map and ground recon in the vicinity of Mutzenich, Monschau and Kalterherberg, Germany.  The batteries were to follow and set up in front of the buzz bomb launching sites that were then being used to attack Liege.  At Kalterherberg, on the morning of December 16th, the recon parties received the opening barrage of von Rundstedt's counter-offensive, which was then thought to be only a local counter-attack.  Part of the recon party returned to Liege on this day and found that the projected move was cancelled.  There was a possibility of an all-out German offensive.  A small party returned on the 17th to EIsenborn, south of Kalterherberg, where the 18th AAA Group was located, to learn more of this position and to find out what had happened to the radars that had been left there previously.  On arrival, the party saw the 18th Group evacuating their position and moving to the rear in the face of the German offensive.  Word had been received by both radar crews to return to Liege with the equipment as quickly as possible.  This was accomplished after considerable difficulty due to the roads necessary to travel over in order to evade enemy forces.
 
All batteries were in March Order but when the recon party returned, the orders were changed and the 143rd was returned to it's original positions. The men were uneasy and everything was too quiet.  Then it broke loose! Word came down that the batteries were to March Order, leaving as soon as possible on an anti-mechanized mission south of Liege.  Recon parties left in 30 minutes and were on their ay to meet the Commanding Officer of the 11th AAA Group that would give the 143rd its Bn mission.  The members of the recon party remembered the atmosphere of that hotel room in Aywaille when they learned that the whole German front was erupting in a major counter offensive.  The Battalion had been given four important road nets that were to be held at all costs regardless of men and material.  The party made a hasty reconnaissance so that the main column with the guns would be met within a space of 3-4 hours later.  
Battery "A" 
Battery "A", my father's battery, had the farthest to go, moving down highway N-15 past Werbomont to Manhay, then turning east to the crossroads at Snamont.  "B" Battery was assigned the defense of the road net at Habiemont, just east of Werbomont.  The recon party from "B" Battery, consisting of Captain Browne, Capobianco, Rankin and Sproat, proceeded on the basis of these orders.  The main column of "B" Battery continued to the battery center at Werbomont and, upon finding that its recon party had been cut off by a blown bridge, moved into its emergency assembly area and was later picked up by the Bn recon party going to the Bn CP.  Immediate recon was made for new positions since original map positions were without in the hands of the enemy.  The guns set up abreast, beside the road leading west to Werbomont.  Later, when John Sproat managed to come back through the German lines, it was learned that the rest of the members of the recon party of Battery "B" ran into a German forward outpost and were killed.  
Battery "C" 
Battery "C" turned east and south from Aywaille and set up anti-mechanized defenses in the vicinity of Stoumont.  In connection with the 119th Infantry of the 30th Division, "C" Battery provided the immediate defenses for the road net leading to Aywaille from the east.  Early next morning, Charlie attempted to move Gun 4 to a more advantageous position in the town of Stoumont.  The gun became mired in mud and while the men worked to emplace it, enemy fire destroyed it, together with the M-4 tractor.  The crew of the gun were evacuated and fell back as infantry to the vicinity of the next gun. At 0730, Gun 2 which was emplaced in Stoumont, engaged a Mark VI tiger tank at a range of 40 yards, knocking it out and setting it afire with seven rounds.  The crew of the tank were completely destroyed.  Here a major engagement was developing.  A mortar shell landed in a US halftrack, which was parked in the vicinity, setting off its ammo and the 90mm ammunition of Gun 2.  This destroyed the gun which had to be abandoned in the face of the enemy advance.  The gun crew took their place as infantry along with the crew of Gun 4.  
 
During this time, in answer to a request for volunteers by an infantry officer, Pfc's Darago and Seamon volunteered to attack two German Mark VI tanks with bazookas, which they had never fired previous to this time.  After crawling behind the building where the tanks were parked, each man fired his one round into the rear radiator, setting the tanks ablaze.  Retiring around the building, the men were given another round of ammo apiece and crept forward again to make sure of their kill.  For this heroic action, these two men were awarded the DSC.  During this engagement, the medical detachment of the Bn could pride itself on knowing that all of its personnel conducted themselves in the tradition of the medical corps.  On several occasions the medics aided not only their own batteries, but also infantry men near by.  All of them gave untiring attention to the men assigned to their care.  
 
Now the full pressure of this German armored column became apparent as the enemy pushed on to Stoumont Station close on the heels of the retiring American tank and infantry units.  There was a heavy fog that morning and the reactions and sensations of the boys from Charlie were mixed as they saw the troops retiring, realizing that they were to stand in place in front of this armored thrust.  The last American tank to leave made a temporary road block by pulling a "daisy chain" of mines across the road.  The explosion of these mines did not stop the tiger tank but it did warn the men that shortly out of the fog would come the spearhead of the German advance.  At the first appearance of the dim shape of the tiger tank at approximately 400 yards, Charlie opened fire and destroyed this tank with seven rounds.  A second tank following closely on the heels of the first attempted to pass the disabled Mark VI but as it did so, Gun 1 opened fire again and destroyed this second tank in such a fortunate position as to form a road block.  
The counter fire 
The counter fire which was received during this action did not destroy either men or material.  However, the enemy sent up infantry to reduce this strong point.  The crew of the first machine gun which brought the men of Charlie under fire from the right was driven off or killed by small arms fire.  Second machine gun opened up from a well-concealed position and it was impossible for "C" battery to hold the strong point any longer.  The 90mm gun was destroyed and the men fell back to the fourth and only remaining gun.  It was during this action that Pfc Donald Eyanson was killed and Pvt's DP Phillips and Charles Schofield were seriously wounded.  During this time the 119th Infantry regiment reorganized, counter-attacked and held the enemy.  "C" Battery had helped to stop the spearhead.  
 
Batteries "A" & "D" were in position supporting the 82nd Airborne Div's advance elements which had arrived during the nights of the 18th and the 19th December.  Battery "A" formed an advance strong point with one company of the Parachute Infantry and Battery "D" became part of the integrated anti-tank defenses supporting the advance of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment.  A new conception of mobile warfare was gained when it was discovered that between these two batteries were approximately 15 to 20 German armored vehicles who were attempting to advance. 
 
Leon Feifer, one of my father's best friends, of "A" Battery, remembered that "we were dug in and blissfully unaware that we were actually surrounded by the enemy.  We could see the enemy on a hillside but we never fired on them and they never fired on us.  We could hear the artillery and gunfire and could smell the gunpowder but we were not attacked.  It was so cold, lying in trenches, in the morning covered in snow and wet."  The men breathed a sigh of relief when the 82nd attacked the morning of the 20th and drove the enemy back. Cpl. Dale Gill of "A" Battery recollected that "by the time the 82nd got to our position they had begun to fan out as they started down that long hill.  The strain of what lay ahead had begun to show on their faces.  It wasn't long after they reached the bottom of that hill that all hell broke looses.  The firing seemed continuous for hours."  During that day various reports were coming in regarding the progress of the American counter-attacks.  
 
Early on the morning of the 21st, around 0200, came that cry "March Order!"  The Bn was then attached to the 30th Division, under the XVIII Corps Airborne.  The 143rd was to move immediately to the Francorchamps - Stavelot - La Gleize - Malmedy area where another armored column threatened a breakthrough.  Reconnaissance elements left in the middle of the night to report to the battalion report center at Spa.   At this point orders for the disposition of the batteries were received and the battery recon parties left to make actual ground reconnaissance of positions for the individual guns.  On arrival of the Bn recon parties at 30th Div Hdqs, the situation had changed.  An immediate breakthrough by the Germans was now possible and all guns had to be emplaced immediately in order positions outlined in order of priority regardless of the original dispositions.  Although everything seemed to be in a complete state of confusion, the guns were set up as fast as they arrived.  Fortunately, the expected penetration was beaten back and our positions were improved as further reconnaissance became available. 
 
 
Battery "B" 
"B" Battery discovered on the 22nd, as a result of reconnaissance by elements of the 30th Division, that there was a considerable number of German armored vehicles assembled in the area of La Gleize.  From the maps and Baker's own ground recon it was seen to be possible to move Gun 4 forward, under cover of darkness, to a defile which would command this pocket at a range of about 1500 yards.  On the night of the 22nd -23rd this move was completed.  The 23rd was a very foggy day and it wasn't until late in the afternoon that the mist cleared enough for German artillery to fire a few rounds in the vicinity.  Counter fire was delivered by the guns of "B" Battery at the point of the flash and they received no further fire.  The men spent a restless, cold night anticipating a clear day ahead.  
 
At approximately 0830, liaison parties were received from the 743rd Tank Bn and the 119th Infantry Regiment which indicated targets in the La Gleize pocket to fire upon.  What a thrill the men felt as their first rounds were fired and a camouflaged tiger tank shot up in flames, "B" Battery's first destroyed tank.  As fire was delivered on this first tank, it was noticed that there were two other tanks moving in the bushes.  Fire was shifted to these two targets and they were destroyed.  Finally, fire was directed at various other suspicious looking targets with the result that several small dumps and one enemy-manned Sherman tank was destroyed.  During this engagement 42 rounds of 90mm ammunition was expended.  Cease fire was given so that elements of the 743rd and the 119th could move in and mop up the pocket.  Later in the day, around 1200, "B" Battery in conjunction with the 639th, opened fire and shot down a ME-109 in flames.  
 
"C" Battery, at this location, had no action until around 1240 when they were strafed by two ME-109's while going into position.  "C" Battery's answering fire from their 50 cal. machine guns brought down one plane and the other departed, leaving a trail of smoke . 
From 24 December 1944 to 3 January 1945 
On the 24th December, "A" and "D" Batteries, together with the operations section of Hdqs and the service elements of Hdqs, received orders to move to the vicinity of Aywaille.  They were attached to the 11th AAA Group to establish the AA defenses of the two bridges at that location.  As a result of this move, the guns of "B" and "C" Batteries were rearranged to cover the forward positions.  "A" and "D" Batteries left on the morning of the 24th and were in their new positions and ready to fire by 1900.  On Christmas day the Batteries all had a relatively quiet day and, despite the conditions, all managed to have turkey for dinner.  
 
The morning of the 26th was another clear morning and "A" and "D" Batteries were strafed by low flying P-47's, one plane bearing German insignia.  The planes were engaged with no observed results.  Enemy air activity was general throughout the area during the day and in the vicinity of Francorchamps a fighter bomber dropped a bomb right in the crater of a gun pit that had been evacuated by one of "C" Battery's guns the day before.  The house adjacent to the gun, which was being used as a forward CP was almost completely destroyed by the blast and four members of the battalion were wounded.  No further action occurred in the vicinity of Francorchamps and December 31st, the men of Batteries "B" and "C" were relieved of their mission and returned on the 1st January 1945 to Aywaille, reverting back to their normal AAA mission.  
 
The men of the 143rd felt pride in the box score they had accumulated since December 18th, which totaled twelve German tanks destroyed, two "category one" and one "category two" claim as well as incidental scores and numerous enemy dead.  Unfortunately, on the debit side, the 143rd suffered four KIA, six WIA and three 90mm guns and one M-4 tractor lost in action.  On the 3rd January 1945 the 143rd AAA Gun Bn was relieved from its present mission and moved to Namur, setting up under the control of the 31st AAA Group as the AAA defenses of the bridges and the marshalling yards at Namur, Belgium.
A commendation 
The 143rd received a commendation for it's "outstanding drive, tenacity of purpose, and aggressiveness with which the 143rd AAA Gun Bn. performed all combat missions in the Northern France, Ardennes, Rhineland and Central European Campaigns."  The commendation continues:  
 
"when the German Ardennes Counter-offensive was launched on 16th December 1944, the Bn., which had been given the mission of destroying PAC over German territory, was enroute to the Anti-Robomb Belt east of Monschau - St.Vith, but was diverted to an anti-tank mission in the Houffalize - Manhay - Werbomont - Stoumont - La Gleize area, directly across the path of the 2nd German Panzer Army seeking to reach the Meuse. 
 
Moving into positions under cover of darkness, the 90mm guns of the 143rd, with practically no infantry support, brought to an abrupt halt the breakthrough aspirations of German Armored Force commanders in the above area.  The Bn. becoming, in effect, the front line until the arrival of the 82nd Airborne Division of the XVIII Airborne Corps from the rear, when its guns became the rallying point and later the line of departure for the attacking infantry of the Corps.  Twelve German Royal Tiger M-VI tanks and their American uniformed crews were definitely destroyed by the 143rd AAA Gun Bn in the vicinity of Stoumont Station and Stoumont alone.  No prisoners were taken, while many other tanks, armored cars, assault guns and motor vehicles were found which gave evidence of being hit by 90mm fire in the La Gleize pocket. 
 
Attached to the 30th Infantry Division of the XVIII Corps on 23rd December 1944 in the anti-tank mission, the 90mm guns of the 143rd leap frogged ahead under cover of the thick fog prevailing during this period, seeing out and destroying German Royal Tiger tanks and closely supporting the assaulting infantry attacks of the Corps, which converted the 'Ardennes Bulge' into the 'Ardennes Bubble.'  
 
During the period 18 December 1944 to 3 January 1945 the Bn., with blazing courage and tenacity of purpose, fearlessly stood and fought the enemy on the ground and in the air, shoulder to shoulder with the infantry in the bloodiest battle of the European Campaign.  When their 90mm guns were overrun or destroyed by tanks, the gun crews of the gallant Bn unfalteringly battled on as infantry, seizing bazookas and other abandoned infantry weapons, in implementing their attacks along the line Trois-Ponts - Stavelot - Malmedy.  
 
With the launching of the Roer and Rhine offensives, the 143rd AAA Gun Bn. utilizing its weapons to the maximum in an antiaircraft role at Duren and Remagen, successively supported the pulverizing smash of the 1st Army which terminated all German resistance in its zone of action of the Rhineland.  The termination of hostilities on 8 May 1945 found the Bn well on the road to Berlin with a record that no objective defended by it had been damaged by air or taken by ground attack."  

HEADQUARTERS, 49th AAA Brigade, 10 May 1945 

Memories of Some of the Men of the 143rd AAA Gun Bn: 
I’ll begin with Leon’s (Dad's best friend) memories: 
“Your father and I were good friends from the early days while training in California until our discharge.  I was discharged earlier than Mort.  Actually, he took over for me in the office when I left Germany.  Morty, Hogue and I got to know each other one day in formation.  The 1st Sgt. asked for anyone that could type and the 3 of us raised our hands.  We were put to work in the office typing rosters until we were blue in the face.  Eventually, I remained in the office and Hogue and Morty were assigned other duties in the battalion.  
 
"A" Battery, I feel, was lucky.  Our harshest moments were in the Battle of the Bulge.  We were converted from our normal anti-aircraft function to a ground artillery function.  Anyhow, we were dug in and blissfully unaware that we were actually surrounded by the enemy, who had bypassed us and struck the battery behind us.  We could hear the artillery and could smell the gunpowder, but we were not attacked!  The 82nd Airborne came in and opened up a corridor for us to get out.  Before that, we went through a small town at night and didn’t find out until later that the town was full of the enemy, who held their fire because they didn’t know what our strength was.  We were also strafed a time or two.  Your father and I shared a good sense of humor and got along well.  There were bright spots as well as the tense moments.”  
More memories shared by Leon during a phone conversation: 
“Your Dad and I befriended the family of a French wine merchant.  One day, the 2 children, a boy 14 years and his sister, 11 or 12, came to where we were and invited us to dinner.  This was very special considering the fact that there was little food to be had because of the war.  In between each course a new bottle of wine was opened.  By the end of the meal neither your dad nor I could stand up.  The children were laughing at us as they were used to the wine.  We were pretty drunk and the kids had to walk us back.  This was in Nanterre, France, outside of Paris.”  
 
"We also befriended a Belgian family outside of Liege, the Sornin family, consisting of a man, his wife and their little girl Carmen.  We were invited to stay with them.  Because of the constant falling of the buzz-bombs the family slept in the cellar, but Dad and I were so excited about a soft bed with clean sheets that we said to hell with the buzz-bombs, left the window open and slept upstairs in the bed.”  
 
“I was with the only man in the battery to receive the Purple Heart when he was wounded.  His name was T/4 Marvin Buzzo.  We were driving to pick up the mail when a buzz bomb came down and struck a building.  We were showered with glass and debris and a brick came through the windshield and struck Buzzo in the shoulder.  Once when the convoy was strafed Dad and I had to leap together from the half-track we were riding in and take cover in a ditch on the side of the road, ‘hit the ditch.’  At difficult times, as we approached the battle lines, we could hear the gunfire and shelling, shells were going overhead in different directions, you could smell the gunpowder, but thankfully we never had to kill anyone or personally shoot anyone.  
 
Of course, we had to fire the big guns at planes, but that was different, because you did not know whom you were shooting at.  We were blissfully unaware of the danger we were in on certain occasions.  There were times when we could see the enemy on a hillside or in the distance, but we never fired on them and they never fired on us.  We did pass dead bodies on the sides of the road on a number of occasions, but they were already covered with sheets.”  
 
“Two soldiers in Battery A were killed after the war ended.  Their names were F.A. Risley and Earl Testerman, Jr.  The battery was on a salvage detail, going into German villages and through the countryside collecting weapons and ammunition from the Germans.  
 
One day we approached some railroad tracks and a German civilian motioned us ahead, giving an all-clear sign.  Just as the truck got onto the tracks a train struck it.  The civilian had trapped them.  Of course, everyone in the battery was terribly upset, especially because those two boys had survived the war without a scratch, only to be killed afterwards.  I’m sure that German civilian did not have happy fate!”  
 
“Morty and I missed most of the tours after the war because we had so much work to do.  We were able to go on boat trips down the Rhine visiting some of the castles, go to dances with some of the local girls, to the theater and movies and occasionally go out to dinner and have a beer.  But movements were real restricted, after all Germany was still considered enemy country.  I was able to get out before Mort because I had to cross the Rhine to pick up the mail so I got extra points.  When they told me I could leave early I certainly didn’t argue!”  
 
“Your dad was a mellow, low-keyed guy with a wonderful smile.  An open guy who never got upset and always stayed under control.  I was also like this, we both had a good sense of humor and that is why we stayed together always, for days, weeks, months, and years! I  always considered your dad to be my best friend in those times!”  
One more set of memories from Leon, a great and generous guy. 
“The six weeks during the Bulge were the only time that I was able to have an idea of what the foot soldier went through.  Dug in on the gun, I handled the ammunition, the guns were horizontal…it was so cold, lying in trenches, sleeping in sleeping bags, wet, waking up covered in snow, gunfire, machine guns…your dad, I seem to remember, had even more the duties of a foot soldier.  We all had personal weapons. 
 
Germans were across the way, riding bicycles, never fired on each other.  We traveled in armored personnel carriers, 15-20 guys.  One night riding through a town, we were told to be ready for anything, locked and loaded, rifles at the ready.  Thankfully they let is go through. Dad probably had a rougher time than I did, on the front lines; he only came back into the office after I left.  Maybe he was on the guns, radar or electric, guard duty, fox-holes, trenches.”  
Nate Soltoff, another of dad’s closest friends, shared some of his thoughts with my mother, and I. 
“Ft. Lee, VA. after induction, we took a train to where, I don’t remember, but we arrived for a stop over in New Orleans.  I met Mort and Leon on the train, 12 hours in New Orleans, ‘be back by 7pm, no AWOL, no late, no excuses!!’  Of course, us three Jewish boys, God forbid we should get into any trouble; we were back to the train by 5:30pm.  Training in the desert, hot as hell during the day and cold at night.  During training we would shoot at targets being dropped by planes and once we hit the tail of the plane.  The 90mm was not so accurate.  Leon, Mort and I would go out together on weekend passes.  Leon was the office manager and would give out the details so he would work it out so we could get passes together.  We would hitch hike into LA from Camp Haan.  Go to the USO, Hollywood Canteen, and parties…. ”  
 
“ Met some crazy guys in the army.  Driving in convoys some guys would shoot their M1s to target shoot off the trucks at trees and signs, etc,.  The Sgts. would yell to ‘cut it out, you could kill someone off the roads’ and the guys would reply, ‘so what, that is what we’re here for, to kill Germans.’  I remember a guy from Kentucky, great guy, used to always keep some grass and dirt in his boots so his toes would feel the grass and dirt and remind him of home.  “We shipped out overseas, England and landing in France, Utah Beach, late August, 1944, 90mm guns to protect Paris, an open city by then so no bombing.  I went to work in supplies with Lt. McMullen, Mort, I think went onto the guns. Paris was with no lights and it was pitch black at night.  I was on guard duty once and fell into a foxhole.  I remember all the buzz bombs outside of Liege.  Shooting at the buzz bombs, on 24 hrs, off 24 hours.”  
 
“The Bulge was the worst!  During the Bulge, Captain Napier, a good man, had us covering a crossroads.  We had to go up each road, dig trenches, laid land mines to damage any tanks that might have come up the road.  The 90mm was being used than as an anti-tank gun.  Once we were working on tractors, with the cranes and a German plane strafed us, could hear the bullets pinging off the metal of the crane.  Thank God, no one was hurt.  We saw many German prisoners at different times being guarded and marched to the rear, rounded up.  
 
We moved up to the Rhine.  Watched the Remagen Bridge collapse and engineers building a new one.  The 90’s we had to dig in deep to guard the crossings.  Once night, in Cologne I think, we were in a youth home or something and found barrels of whiskey or cognac, ¾ of the boys were drunk that night.  If the Germans would have attacked us, forget it!  Your dad was a great guy, always willing to do whatever anyone wanted…USO, dances, parties, ‘no problem, that is fine with me.’  Yes, a very, fine man, I get choked up when I think of him….”  
Henry Gonsiewski wrote: 
Henry Gonsiewski wrote: “Your father I knew well.  He was in the office with Feifer, but we got to see each other a lot.  We had a lot of close calls in our outfit.”  
Louis Youngblood wrote me and was kind enough to send me a picture: 
 
“Yes David, I remember Morty very well.  He was a very nice guy, full of life.  I think he must have been ‘Special Services.’  Very sorry to hear about his death, and so young.  He was not in my gun section.”  
 
Joe Zupancic also sent me a copy of “The Periscope,” the 38th Reinforcement Battalion’s newsletter from Mosbach, Germany, November 11 [Mort’s birthday], 1945:  “I did not know your dad very well.  I only got to know him after the war in Mosbach, Germany.  He tried to beat me in ping-pong tournaments.  He was a very good player.”  
Nelson Sunderlin was to ill to respond, but his son wrote me a few memories of his father’s: 
“He doesn’t like orange marmalade because in Camp Haan they were always eating oranges.  Rapid fire on the guns.  Once a tent caught fire and set off the ammo.”  
Dale Gill wrote me a few times and sent me many personal memories and some stories he had written: 
“The weather in Europe during that time was a terrible winter.  Frostbite was nearly as much of a problem as were the Germans.  We had to change socks sometimes twice a day or more.  Our hands and feet would freeze if we got them wet.  My job was keeping the 50cal. machine guns firing.  
 
I was a Cpl. and Sgt. Harris and I was in charge of about 20 men in the machine gun section.  We were in a large convoy going overseas.  Navy subs and Cruisers escorted us. We were fired on, but only one ship was hit.  Our ship was ‘His Majesty The Highland Brigade.’  Utah Beach was pretty secure when we landed.  There was terrible devastation on the beach and in the surrounding area.  We lost a 90mm gun when a chain broke while loading the gun aboard ship at Southampton, England.  That was the last we saw of that gun! You asked about your dad’s duties.  I think he was classified as ‘Special Services’ for a while.  He was also Capt. Napier’s driver [?].  He handled the mail and worked in the office for 1st Sgt. Banning and Capt. Napier.  All reports I heard about him, he was efficient and was well liked.”  
“Three Days In December” by Dale Gill: 
“It was 1944, only a few days before Christmas and the Allied Forces were in the middle of what was to be called The Battle of the Bulge.  The German army was making one last desperate attempt to try and stop the advancing Allied forces before they reached their border.  The German military knew that they would have to find a way to disrupt the American supply lines if they would have a chance of retaking any of the territory they lost.  
 
This meant they would that they would have to use their remaining elite divisions in an all-out effort to crush the Allied Armies.  The 143rd Anti-Aircraft Gun Bn. Was to play an important role in helping to stop the German army after they made their attack on our forces.  I was a machine gun Cpl. in Battery A.  I would like to relate some of my experiences and recollections during those 3 days in December-between the 18th and the 21st.  On the 19th Battery A was in position and, as historical records would have it, we were in a supporting role to an advance element of the 82nd Airborne Division.  They arrived in our position on the night of the 18th, early morning of the 19th.  
 
The German armored tanks and infantry contingents were in the woods only a hundred or so yards below us.  In addition, what was thought to be a German reconnaissance group with reinforcements and vehicles was attempting to block the road behind us.  There was no question, Battery A was in serious trouble.  As the old saying goes, ‘war is hell,’ but, as we know, it is a game of strategy and I’m sure that the fate of Battery A, given those set of circumstances, came into play when the fate of our four 90mm guns were threatened to be destroyed.  
 
I have always believed that the 82nd Airborne was to support us, not the other way around.  By the time the 82nd got to our position, they had begun to fan out as they started down that long hill.  The strain of the thought of what may lay ahead was beginning to show on their faces.  Their faces, I remember, showed both fear and courage.  It wasn’t long after they reached the bottom of that hill that all hell broke out.  The firing seemed to be continuous for hours.  The 82nd pushed the element of the German SS Panzer Division back, but at a terrible loss of life.  At 2am, on the morning of the 21st we were told to get out of there.  
 
I wanted to tell this story for 2 reasons.  First, I am happy that most of the men in Battery A got home.  The second reason is that many of those young men from the 82nd who walked down that hill into battle never got the chance to walk back up again!  I think of them every Veteran’s and Memorial Day.  I’ll never forget the words of one paratrooper as he walked through our position after it was all over.  When asked, ‘it was rough down there wasn’t it?’  ‘Yeah, ‘he replied, ‘and I hope you never forget we did it for you.’”  
Further memories of Dale Gill: 
“…I applied for a job as a Cpl. on a machine gun section and was assigned to a new Battalion just being activated at Camp Haan, California.  So that is how I got into Battery A of the 143rd. … While on a training exercise in the Mojave Desert I was fortunate to be assigned to a machine gun crew that worked with a group of scientists from the Mass. School of Technology who were experimenting with a magnetic device that released a spring that would detonate a shell if it came within a hundred feet of a metal object such as an airplane.  
 
A few months later while in Europe during the war I saw both German planes and buzz bombs destroyed using this device in different types of shells fired from guns.  I also heard that the magnetic device was very effectively used with 90mm guns when fired at German tanks.  Our big guns fired on a few aircraft and stationary targets.  We machine gunners fired on and downed a German plane.  At times death and the smell of death was around us.  A train full of dead bodies was in Duren, Germany and the engineers were still clearing the streets when we advanced into town.  During the Bulge, when the shelling was heaviest I could sleep soundly, but as soon as it stopped I’d wake up in a cold sweat.  We always thought at that point that their infantry would attack us.  This was especially true at night.”  
A recent letter from Dale Gill with more shared memories: 
“The picture of your Dad and his three best friends brought back many pleasant memories also.  I think we all thought of one another as family…with a few inadvertent squabbles.  I can honestly say I don’t remember anyone in the outfit that I didn’t like!  Dave you mentioned the P-47 we fired on…and the question was it destroyed?  There is no doubt what so ever that it was shot down, we saw it fly into the side of a big hill and explode.  The question arose afterward as to who dealt it the final blow?  There was a 20MM outfit about a mile from us and they claimed that they hit it also, ‘ack-ack.’  I will give you my version as I remember what happened.  
 
I was at Pfc. Riffle’s machine gun position at the time.  Sgt. Harris and I seldom stayed at only one position.  After the P-47 completed it’s bombing and strafing run of a field artillery outfit below us I thought he would fly off in the same direction as did the other German planes, that would be in the opposite direction from us!  But, for whatever reason, he turned and came directly towards the machine gun emplacement where I was.  I identified it as one of our P-47s’ and said so.  My first thought was, ‘the dumb bastard doesn’t know us from the enemy!’  
 
The phone was ringing and Riffle answered.  I don’t remember if it was Lt. Katz or Capt. Napier on the other end, but, whoever, they made a positive identification of the German swastikas under it’s wings!  Orders were given to prepare for firing.  Now, Riffle was still on the phone when the orders were given to commence firing.  I grabbed the 50cal. gun, spun it around and started to blaze away!  I know I hit him, he was no more than a few feet above me, it seemed!  I saw smoke pour out of his engine; other crewmembers said they hit him also!  After he flew off Lt. Katz ran out into the middle of the area where the big 90mm guns were dug in and asked ‘who was firing that machine gun?’  Someone spoke and said, ‘Cpl. Gill.’  Without consultation Katz said, ‘I am recommending him for the bronze star!’  I was flabbergasted, I never thought of such a thing.  
 
I remember so distinctly Sgt. Harris coming over to me and saying, ‘Gill, you better think twice.  Now, we have to live with these other guys you know.’  When Lt. Katz held out his hand to congratulate me I said that we all hit him, and I truly believe others did because they had a better angle than I did.  There is one more incident in this story I’ll never forget.  When the German pilot seemed to be no more than a few feet above me, at 3 o’clock he looked directly down at me and a black gloved hand came up above the window in either a salute or some other gesture and then he immediately turned and flew straight ahead.  I am sure I’m the last person he saw up-close on this earth, as he most certainly died in that crash!”  
Burton Levenson spoke with me on the phone and also shared some memories: 
“I remember that the Highland Brigade was a converted refrigerator ship and all we had to eat was fish and mutton.  I remember outside of Liege, all those buzz bombs and we weren’t able to shoot at them because our shells may have fallen into the city.  During the Bulge the 82nd appeared on the scene dressed in their fancy uniforms because they had to move so fast that they hadn’t had the time to change into their dungarees and battle fatigues.  Then I think we were later attached to the 30th Infantry later in the battle.  After the Battle of the Bulge I remember being in Chamonix, in the French Alpes and picking up German equipment.  The 143rd lost around 15 guys altogether.  Out of approximately 900 guys in our outfit I think there were around 25-35 Jewish guys.”  
Col. Myron Fleming also graciously responded and sent me some copies of official documents: 
“In the Battery "A" address book your dad is referred to as ‘Mort,’ with affection I am sure.  I confess that I did not know by name each man of the 900 odd officers and men in the 143rd.  As you read names of some men mentioned in the various reports you must remember those results were achieved as the results of the united effort of every member of the unit.  We were truly a close-knit group. 
 
To give some idea of the equipment of a 90mm Mobile AAA Bn. Items are listed below: 16 90mm guns (4/firing battery) 16 M-4 Tank Chassis as prime movers 50 2-½ ton trucks each with 50 cal. MG ring mounted 4 M-4 Directors with 4 Van Sized Radar units”  
Harry Lane of C Battery spoke with me recently: 
“We were at Stoumont Station and knocked out 12 German tanks.  Darago and Seamon won the DSC there.  Yes, I was there than, I was on one of the guns.  We were there with our four guns and had to hold, the infantry just pulled out!  My God it was cold and foggy, with all that snow, you could hardly see in front of you, God, it was so miserable and scary!  Darago and the other fellow volunteered and crawled up to a hedgerow with a bazooka and knocked a few tanks on their own.  My gun knocked out two tanks at a roadblock.  Yeah, we had three of our four guns knocked out!  We were strafed a few times, too. 
 
After the Bulge we moved into Germany.  We were at Remagen to guard the bridge there.  Two of the batteries were on one side and the other two crossed over to guard the other side of the bridge.  Didn’t see any action at Remagen, we were only there to guard the bridge.  We were in Bonn when the war ended then we joined the Occupation forces.  C Battery did inventory of the German depots.” 
More from Mr. Gill: 
“It was right after the battalion moved into Paris.  As soon as the guns were set up and operational a group of men were given 6 hour passes to see the city.  A truck drove them to a spot near the Arc de Triomphe, where they were dropped off with instructions to meet there at 5pm for pick-up and return to A Battery.  I recalled that there were 12 avenues that make up sort of a hub with the Arc De Triomphe being in the center of the hub.  After walking around with some of the others for a while, I decided to strike off on my own.  
 
As I walked through the maze of streets I never thought to keep track of the names of the streets.  When 5 o’clock rolled around I realized that I was hopelessly lost!  When I finally found the pick-up spot I discovered that the truck had already left.  I tried to find my way back, but not being able to speak French I could only describe an area by a railroad track and a garbage dump.  On my third day of roaming around I finally was able to hail down a mail truck whose driver said that he could get me back to Hdq. Battery.  
 
Well, when I finally got back to A Battery hardly anyone wanted to believe my story.  However, there was one man who chose to believe me, and that man was the C.O., Captain Napier.  As I look back on it now, what a waste of time and energy.  To think how I could have spent those days!”  I have managed to get the official records of the 143rd from the National Archives, all 150 pages worth.  Very interesting and informative, but nothing could be more heartwarming then the personal stories that you all carry with you!  
 
My intimate knowledge of Mort’s life begins, essentially, in 1942 when he moved to Baltimore and met my mom.  I know little of his early years growing up in New York City and his life blanks to a great extent from 1943-46, his years in the army, which, as I’ve mentioned to you all in the past, he never spoke about. Unfortunately, when my mother received his telegram in April, 1946 that he was coming home, like “an impetuous, love-struck, young 20 year old girl,” my mother ran through her mother’s house screaming, “no more letters, no more letters” and threw 2 years worth of letters from Dad into the furnace.  So there are not even letters to draw on!  
 
I am, again, “bugging” you all by asking for any further memories you may have from those days, good, bad, anecdotal, pictures and letters home that might have been saved that you would like to share with me.  I would return everything sent to me. It would be so helpful and exciting to have more of an understanding of your feelings and to try and appreciate what Dad must have been thinking and feeling in those emotional times.  Many thanks to you all and I sincerely hope and pray that you are all well!?  
Memories From the 143rd AAA Gun Battalion Reunion, July 15th 2001. Attendees from Dad’s Battery A: 
Harry Watson, Bob Pavela, Steve Stephenson, Albert Langley, Joe Zupancic, Louis Carballada, Fred Skolaris, Chuck Olszeski, Jim Watson, Dick Olson. 
Dick Olson: 
“There was one guy, Hatfield, ‘Omar’ we called him.  He was a real thief!  That guy would steal anything.  One time, in Belgium, he drove in a command car with a star still on it.  Turned out the car belonged to Omar Bradley!  Oscar was his name, but after that we all called him ‘Omar.’  Jesus Christ, he hid it away in a barn and we’d all sneak in, three at a time, to see it.  He was in supply, so being a thief came in handy, he could talk anybody into anything and out of anything!”  “Stevenson, that guy sitting right there, he found, I don’t know, maybe a 20-gallon drum and filled it with schnapps or cognac.  The men on his gun were drunk all the time, all the time, and he never even shared any of it!”  
Joe Zupancic: 
“You know, whenever it is extremely cold out I feel so badly.  It always brings back the memories, during the Bulge, my God; it was so cold, unbelievable!  We slept with those thin, army-issue sleeping bags, covered ourselves with water-proof tarps and slept outside!”  
Bob Pavela: 
"I remember this Belgian woman, she must have been around 79-80 years old.  I knocked on her door and asked if I could sleep in her house.  She said yes, so I went up to the second floor, to the bedroom, and slept.  She and her family slept under a table.  March Order came and we moved out for the Bulge.  Afterwards, I returned to the lady’s house and she said I was lucky I moved out.  She took me upstairs and I saw that a buzz-bomb had shattered the roof and it had come down, along with a huge chandelier, on the bed that I had been sleeping in.”  
Steve Stephenson: 
“During the Bulge we were dug in on top of a hill, with my gun emplacement facing down.  We could hear all the German tanks beneath us, smell them, hear them talking, but the fog was so damn thick they never saw us.  I was so damned scared! If that fog would have lifted and they saw us we would have been killed!”  
Zupancic, Pavela, & Stephenson: (this is a story I vaguely remember Dad talking about) 
“Once, outside of Aywaille, planes came in and started strafing us. Sgt.______ took off and ran into the woods to hide. Imagine that!  Yeah, and he had a big mouth in the States, how he was going to get over there and win the war all by himself.  Always shooting his mouth off!  (Zup) …and I was out in the front, on the line, when the planes came in and I ran back to my gun and Sgt.______ is gone, with ______, our gunner!  Took right off into the woods to hide, and we’re all standing there ready to fire, but unable to! Imagine that!”  “Remember the time in Germany. 
 
We were dug in, in a field, and we started getting shelled, not with buzz bombs, but with 88’s and “screaming meemies!”  My God, they were loud, right over our heads!  We all jumped to the ground, lying face down. (Pavela)  This Lt., West Pointer, ran over and jumped down next to me.  He said he was scared and he asked me if I was scared, too?  I said, ‘of course I am!’  He said, ‘good, mind if I lay next to you?’”  
Fred Skolaris: 
“I remember, outside of Liege, we were inside this dining hall and, Jesus, we heard a buzz-bomb coming close!  It’s engines cut out and we all dove underneath the tables.  God, that was an explosion!  Some went over us towards Antwerp, but many, many were directed at Liege.  We saw lots of them and many were very close!”  
Albert Langley: 
“Outside of Paris we were located in an old German 88 emplacement.  Well, there were two dugouts, and in between them was a large hole.  The officers took the dugouts, of course, and I was the communications Sgt. on duty.  Well, it was very dark and I was climbing up to string some wire and I stumbled and fell into this large hole!  I had to lie at the bottom of that hole until some guys wandered by and helped me out. In the meantime, there was no communications coming in or going out of our battery!”  
Leon Feifer’s response to the above memories: 
"I have to laugh at the comments Dick Olsen made about Hatfield.  I know too well about him.  He was my roommate for a while in a house in Germany.  He stole some steaks and eggs from the Mess Hall and the next morning I had me first taste of steak and eggs for breakfast.  The lady of the house fixed it for us.  I often wonder what he did after he got out of the service?  I wouldn’t be surprised if he wound up in jail. He was slick, but likable.  I also remember the strafing incident.  Your dad and I jumped off the truck and into a ditch along the road.  We left our rifles on the truck.  Two brave (?) soldiers in a ditch without their rifles!” 
On February 2002, I had the pleasure of spending three hours with Carey Brincefield: 
"I remember your dad's beautiful smile, his beautiful teeth.  He always smiled, even during the tough times.  We went into Los Angeles a few times on leave, your dad, Leon and me.  We would go dancing, the "Hollywood Canteen," the "Derby," some of the stars would have parties for the servicemen, and they treated us great!  We went to a party in James Gleason's back yard, they were terrific!"  
 
"I remember that a lot of us stayed with families outside of Liege.  We had to fire our guns a lot during that period, so much so that we were burning out the barrels.  I was a 'Height Finder', my job was to utilize the equipment necessary to determine the height if the planes or buzz bombs and relay that information to the gunners.  We were emplaced near a small airfield where large transport planes were constantly flying in and out of.  Liege, you may know, had become basically one big supply depot.  That is why the Germans were constantly hitting the city and were intent on taking the city. Nearby were also the coalmines.  Christ, the only way we could get a shower was to go into the mines.  They had small showers inside the mines for the miners to clean up.  
 
The water, I think, was cold, but at least we could clean up.  Anyway, outside of these mines were slag hills, extremely large hills made up of refuse from the mines.  One day a big transport plane was coming in and it was very foggy.  That plane slammed right into one of these slag mounds.  All of us from A Battery made our way over to the site and we were climbing up this mound trying to get to the crewmen.  I'll never forget what happened, this plane, I remember, was bringing in blankets and the blankets were all over the place.  You would have thought the entire population of Liege came out to the site, all these people grabbing at the blankets, we're trying to save the crewmen and they're fighting each other for these damn blankets.  One of the saddest things I ever saw!"  
 
"The 143rd was all ready to move forward to go after the sites from which the buzz bombs were being launched when the "Battle of the Bulge" began.  The Battalion was moved forward immediately and all the Batteries were emplaced in and around the major roads and intersections in the area to keep anything from moving up these roads.  Battery A's guns were dug into this field in a position where we could see anything coming around that road before they could see us.  Shuttic and I were ordered to move forward into these trees and dig a foxhole and lay in wait.  
 
We were laying mines in the road ahead with wires that had to be pulled in order to be detonated.  The Lt. wanted Shuttic and me to get into a position where we would see anything coming around the bend first and we were to set off the mines.  Hell, we told the Lt. he was crazy, that is was suicide for us and we weren't going to do it!  Well, he persisted and that is what we did.  We climbed in amongst those damn trees and dug a foxhole and that is where we stayed for three days, freezing in that damn foxhole!  Battery A was lucky though, nothing came up that road.  C Battery got hit pretty hard, saw a lot of action, destroyed many tanks.  B and C Battery lost some men, but we were fortunate.  We could hear a lot going on around us, small arms fire, shells overhead, smoke and the smell of cordite, but we were never hit directly.  
 
I never, thank God, had to point my rifle at another man and shoot.  I remember when the 82nd Airborne guys came barreling through, boy it was something!  Later we were sent into Stavelot, I believe, and I think it was there that we were emplaced near some rail lines.  Behind us were some flatbed trains, I think this was in Stavelot, [Dale Gill remembered "a train full of dead bodies was in Duren, Germany"] and they were bringing in bodies of soldiers, men that had been killed earlier in the battle.  It was terrible, these guys were frozen solid and they kept piling them up on these flat-bed cars, that was horrible!"  
 
"Capt. Napier, he was a good guy, looked out for his men.  He went and demanded a hot Christmas meal for us and we got it too!  He always took care of us! In Germany, in Mosbach, Napier went to the Burgemeister of the town and they walked down the street and Napier just kept pointing to buildings and saying 'we'll take that one for Hdqs., and that one for the men, and that place for the men to use for recreation [later known as Murphy's Place]. 
 
You know, I was a young man right out of high school when I got drafted, and I must say the Army was quite an experience for me!  I saw and did things that I would never had imagined, Paris, Germany...there were some tough times, but, I guess I should be ashamed to say, for the most part, I had a great time, it was a real learning experience for me!"  
Dad and Battery A: 
Left Paris at 08:50, arrived Hirshon, France 17:00 25 Nov 44  
"Battery A moved to Exposition Park, Porte de Versaille, and occupied a former German AA position with a mass of German ammunition and some 88's still in firing position"  
 
Left Hirshon and arrived Loncin, Belgium 26 Nov 44 (suburb of Liege)  
"Here we had our first antiaircraft engagement.  The enemy plane appeared, from plots and speeds, to be a light reconnaissance plane.  Upon failure to properly identify itself, the plane was fired upon by A and D Batteries, with D Battery claiming one, category two.  Several nights later another reconnaissance plane returned and was fired upon by Batteries A and C, with Battery A making a category two claim.  At several times during this period, enemy planes returned, apparently observing some of the results of the landing of the numerous buzz bombs." 
 
Left Loncin at 14:30 18 Dec 44. Arrived Bra, Belgium at 16:30 18 Dec 44  
"Battery A had the farthest to go, moving down South on highway N-15 past Werbomont to Manhay, then E/NE to the crossroads at Snamont.  They were able to set up in their assigned positions, meeting no enemy opposition.  They were in position and ready to fire at 2300, 18 Dec 44.  
 
Battery A was in position supporting the 82nd Airborne Division's advance elements whish had arrived during the night of 18th/19th December.  Battery A formed an advance strong point with one company of parachute infantry...the 82nd Airborne attacked the morning of the 20th and drove the enemy, an element of the First SS Panzer Division back."  
 
Left Bra at 02:25 21 Dec 44 
"Early on the morning of the 21st, around 0200, we found we were attached to the 30th Division, under the 18th Corps Airborne.  We were to move immediately to the Francorchamps-Stavelot-La Gleize-Malmedy area where another armored column threatened a breakthrough...."  
 
Arrived Stavelot, Belgium at 10:00 21 Dec 44  
"On arrival of the Bn recon parties at 30th Division Hdqs. the situation had changed.  An immediate breakthrough was possible and all guns had to be emplaced immediately in positions outlined in order of priority regardless of the original disposition.  Although, everything seemed to be in a state of confusion...our guns were set up as fast as they arrived.  Fortunately, the expected penetration was beaten back and our positions were improved as further reconnaissance became available.  This resulted in improved siting of several guns and in the movement of two guns of Battery A after dark to a main road overlooked in map reconnaissance due to portrayal on the map as a trail rather than a hard surfaced road."  
 
Left Stavelot at 11:00 24 Dec 44  
"At approximately 1630 warning orders were received of tentative plan for relieving Battery A and D from their present anti-tank mission and assigning these batteries within operations section to the AAA defense of two bridges at Aywaille.  At 2327 orders to execute this plan after daylight on the 24th December were received and the batteries were notified....they were attached to the 11th AAA Group"  
 
Arrived Aywaille, Belgium at 14:00 24 Dec 44 
"we left on the morning of the 24th and were in our new position, ready to fire by approximately 1900.  On Christmas, we had a quiet day and despite the conditions, all of us had our turkey for dinner.  The morning of the 26th was another clear morning and in A and D Batteries we were strafed by low-flying P-17's, one plane bearing German insignia.  The planes were engaged with no observed results.  Enemy air activity was general throughout the area during the day....")  
 
Left Aywaille at 14:00 3 Jan 45 
"On the 3rd January we were relieved from our present mission and moved to Namur, setting up under the control of the 31st AAA Group as the AAA defenses of the bridges and marshalling yards at Namur, Belgium."  
 
Arrived Erpent, Belgium (3 miles SE of Namur) 21:30 3 Jan 45 
"Battery A was in position at Erpent."  
 
Left Erpent at 10:00 12 March 45 
"On March 12th we...moved to Verviers, Belgium to protect the supply installations, railhead and marshalling yards at Herve, Belgium." 
 
Arrived Battice, Belgium (near Verviers) 14:30 12 March 45 
"A Battery dug positions in a small field at Battice." 
 
Left Battice at 10:00 28 March 45 
 

T/5 Morton SPITZ's son

"A" Battery

143rd AAA Mobile Gun

Battalion

Campaigns

Battle of the Bulge

Belgium