Presentation Date: September 26, 2013
Earl W Mortenson, United States Army
Earl W. Mortenson was born 1 February 1923 in Pueblo Colorado, the younger of two brothers. His father Carl Mortenson was an engineer with the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad; his mother (formerly Regina Carlson) was a homemaker. In June 1941, Earl graduated from Pueblo Colorado’s Central High School and entered Colorado State University at Fort Collins, Colorado, majoring in biology. There he joined the Reserve Officer Training Corps field artillery program and later the Army Reserve to complete a second year of college.
In May 1943, Earl joined the US Army and was sent to Fort Bragg, North Carolina for basic field artillery training. In November 1943, he shipped overseas to southern England to join the 955th Field Artillery Battalion. This unit was equipped with the 155-mm Howitzer M-1 and Carriage M1A1. Earl was assigned to the Headquarters Battery, Survey Section, as a lead survey and instrument specialist.
The 955th departed the southeast England port of Torquay on a Navy LST, landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day plus 11, and began offensive operations in Normandy supporting the 1st Infantry Division. After battles at St. Lo and the Falaise gap, the 955th Battalion. was attached to the French 2nd Armored Division to provide artillery support during the dash to liberate Paris; it stopped German panzers northeast of the city. The battalion advanced north into Luxembourg and Belgium, firing in support of the battle of the Hurtgen Forest and then the Ardennes Forest. Their fire mission targets included the barracks, bunkers, pillboxes, and dragons’ teeth blocking the Allied advance into the Rhineland.
The Battle of The Bulge began on 16 December 1944 with the 955th engaged in support of the 2nd. Infantry Division. Battery B was firing south on advancing German tanks in the Bollingen area. Batteries A and C were firing north and east in support of the fighting around Monshau and Hofan.
From January to March 1945, the 955th supported 5th Corps divisions driving the Germans out of the Bulge. On 1 January 1945, the bad weather broke. The Headquarters Battalion worked with L-4 spotter aircraft and dedicated forward air controllers calling in artillery and Ninth Air Force P-47 fighter-bombers attacking armor and infantry concentrations.
On 12 March 1945, the 955th was on the east bank of the Rhine River supporting the Ninth Armored Division and other units in the capture of the Remagen Bridge. The third week of March, the battalion crossed the bridge into central Germany. Extensive fire missions were conducted in the fighting around the city of Leipzig and the town of Eilenburg. The battalion was attached to Patton's Third Army and moved to Asch, Czechoslovakia on 28 April. En route, they encountered the Russian army moving west.
After the war in Europe ended on 6 May 1945, the Headquarters Battalion moved to the town of Domazlice, Czechoslovakia. Later that year, Earl shipped out of Marseille, France aboard a poorly maintained Liberty ship packed with soldiers eager to go home. On 21 December 1945, he arrived in New York City. A week later, Earl was separated from the Army at Fort Dix, New Jersey in the rank of Private First Class.
He returned to Colorado State University under the G.I. bill and received a BS degree in Biology in 1948. In June 1948, Earl married Helen Rose Mutz in Denver. They moved to California where Earl entered graduate school in the Biology Department of UC Berkeley. After graduate school, Earl joined the California State Health Department as a Medical Entomologist in the Vector-Borne Section. His work locations included Berkeley and Fresno. After 35 years, Earl retired as Assistant Chief of the Vector-Borne Section.
After retirement, he served 20 years on the board of trustees of the Contra Costa County Mosquito Vector Control District. Helen died in 2003; Earl has two adult sons.