Albertson, Morton (776th)

Morton Albertson 1Morton Albertson

Biography:  Morton Albertson was born on February 20, 1911, in Douglas, North Dakota. He grew up on his family farm in Douglas with his parents, Albert Albertson and Mathilde Johnson. he was one of seven brothers born to the couple.

At some point, Morton joined the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) Company 796, based at Fort Linclon, ND. It was commanded by a Captain Hill, who was a 4th Infantry Division Officer.

CCC Group Photo – May 27, 1933

Service Time:  Morton enlisted in the US Army at Fort Snelling, Minnesota, on March 21, 1942. Five of his brothers also enlisted in the Army and served throughout WWII. Following Morton’s enlistment, early in the summer of 1942, he was assigned to C Company of the 776th Tank Destroyer Battalion. At the time the unit was stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington.

On July 24th, 1942, Morton along with the 776th departed Fort Lewis and traveled by rail to Camp Hood, Texas. It was there that they were to receive additional tank destroyer training and from July to December, the men rigorously trained in the new tank destroyer doctrine and equipment. In November, the unit received the new M10 Gun Motor Carriage (GMC) tank destroyer and were one of the first battalions to deploy overseas with the M10. In late December, Morton and his unit departed Camp Hood and headed to Camp Dix, New Jersey, in preparation of their deployment overseas. On January 12, 1943, Morton and the men of Company C boarded the transport ship ‘Santa Elena’, and departed for North Africa at 0130 hours on the 14th.

The ‘Santa Elena’ arrived at Casablanca, Morocco, on the 25th, and the men disembarked with their equipment and vehicles. The men of Company C and the remainder of the unit conducted refresher training and honed their skills with the their TDs. On February 22nd, they received orders to leave their staging area in Morocco and depart for Algeria and then onto the front lines in Tunisia. The 776th arrived in Bir El Hafey, Tunisia, on March 16th and was subsequently was attached to the 1st Armored Division.

Morton Albertson 2Morton’s C Company was detached from the battalion on March 23rd and sent to reinforce units at Maknassy Pass, Tunisia. Maknassy was Morton’s first major combat experience against the German air and land forces. With no German tanks in sight, C Company developed a new use of the tank destroyers, complimenting the artillery by firing their M10s indirectly against known and suspected German positions; which later became an approved secondary role for all tank destroyer forces. C Company continued to hold the line at Maknassy despite continuous German Luftwaffe strafing and bombing runs.

On March 27th, German forces comprised of infantry, mortars, artillery, air support, anti-tank guns, and five Panzer IV tanks attacked the sector held by Morton’s platoon. Throughout the afternoon, the Germans furiously attacked the defensive line and Morton’s crew helped repel the attacking German force. Morton’s M10, commanded by Sergeant Robert Jones, fired round after around against the German Panzer IV tanks and anti-tank guns from their 3-inch main gun. Their crew successfully destroyed three of the five Panzers and four 88mm anti-tank guns before an armor piercing round from an 88mm hit Morton’s TD near the driver’s compartment. The round killed or injured most of the crew.

Morton, who served as the assistant driver and radioman, was severely wounded in his left arm from the hit. Despite his injury, Morton escaped the burning TD and attempted to evacuate his fellow crewmen from the TD. He was able to get Sergeant Jones out but he would later die of his injuries. Morton was sent to a field hospital so his injuries could be treated. The attacking German force was destroyed, including two Panzers, to make up for the loss of the two M10s (including Morton’s) that day at Maknassy Pass. Morton would later be awarded the Silver Star and Purple Heart for his actions, and his gun commander, Sergeant Jones, would posthumously be awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. Morton left the service at the rank of Private First Class.

Silver Star Citation

Letter from the War Department

Morton remained in hospital care recovering from the severe injury to his left arm until he was discharged from the US Army while at James Tilton General Hospital, Fort Dix, New Jersey, on April 4, 1944.

Letter to Mathilda – July 31, 1943

Morton returned to North Dakota, specifically Minot and shortly after the war, married the former Frances Levchenko. Morton also adopted Frances’s son, Charles Mattern. In 1948, Morton and Frances welcomed into the world their daughter Cheryl Albertson. Despite Morton’s injuries, which continued to plague him after the war, he worked at the Veterans Administration office in Minot, and was a member of the Eagles, Disabled American Veterans, and Veterans of Foreign Wars Associations until his death on July 29, 1957. Morton was buried in the Rosehill Memorial Park in Minot, ND.

Morton Albertson grave marker

I want to thank Morton’s great-nephew for providing the photos and information/text for this tribute.