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Locals who served remember

Sgt. Ted Moskowitz, 1260th Combat Engineer Battalion

They were silent, deadly, 9-pound land mines known as Bouncing Betties - hidden by Nazi soldiers in the Ardennes forest.

Ted Moskowitz, a sergeant with the 1260th Combat Engineer Battalion during the Battle of the Bulge, hunted for them on his hands and knees. He probed snow drifts with a bayonet to find the metal cylinders.

"They were designed to spring up and explode at waist level, and they would cause terrible wounds by showering a man's guts with metal," said Moskowitz, 87, of Wantagh. "The best attitude we found was you pay attention and concentrate real hard and you wouldn't have time to be scared."

Moskowitz said he was fortunate never to have witnessed a man being killed by a mine. But he was nearby when minesweepers in a fellow platoon tripped one of the deadly devices.

"Seeing guys blown up in minefields was devastating," said Moskowitz.

He left the service in 1946 and returned to the Brooklyn of his youth. Immediately, he began to suffer anxiety attacks.

He recalled one that occurred on a crowded avenue, during which he imagined the street was empty and he was alone. A relative steered him to a psychiatrist friend.

He studied art at The New School and got a job as art director for Topps Chewing Gum Company.

He married his wife, Sherry, moved to Long Island in 1963 and raised a boy and a girl.

He said he was proud of his service during the Bulge, but made clear he was happy not to have arrived in Europe via the Allies' bloody D-Day invasion of Normandy.

"I thank God every day that I came in through Marseilles and not through Normandy," Moskowitz said. "I can't imagine doing what those guys did."

Army Pvt. William Mueller, M Company, 424th Infantry Regiment, 106th Infantry Division

Exploding shells rocketed into the Ardennes forest and began shattering the snow-laden treetops above Army private William Mueller.

Mueller, 19, sprinted for a foxhole. A fellow infantryman, Maurice Furr, was at his heels.

But when Mueller made it to the safety of the dugout, he looked back to find Furr dead of shrapnel wounds a few steps behind him.

"We had been together since boot camp," said Mueller, 84, of Levittown. "He was from Alabama and I was from the Bronx, but we stayed together all that time."

"There was no time for meditation or grief," Mueller said. "There was constant artillery and being attacked by ground troops."

Mueller served with M Company, 424th Infantry Regiment, 106th Infantry Division.

He said the battle was largely a blur. Shadowy contact with Nazi forces punctuated by days of bitter cold.

With the ever-present fog, the only way he knew where the enemy lines were was to listen for German voices in the mist.

After the war, he remained stationed with U.S. occupying forces in Germany, where he met his wife, Irmgard.

He brought her to the United States soon after his 1947 discharge, and earned an engineering degree from New York University in 1951.

Grumman hired him as an engineer that year, and he eventually contributed to the lunar lander project. The couple bought a Levittown house, where they raised three children.

He said the lesson of that battle remains significant today.

"It's important to remind people that freedom depends on standing up and defending liberty whenever attacked," Mueller said. "No matter by whom or how."

Army Pvt. Jim Gray

The Belgian forest where Army private Jim Gray's unit was encamped was suddenly alive with swiftly advancing German soldiers.

Communications were cut. The foggy weather made it easy to get lost. And regardless of which direction his unit moved, Nazi troops were there to push them back.

Within three days, Gray's predicament was being described by a German prison guard speaking in thickly accented English.

"He said to us, 'For you, the war is over,' " said Gray, 84, of Garden City. His unit was surrounded and captured on Dec. 19. "Had we not surrendered, we would have been annihilated."

He spent several months in a prison camp before he was liberated by Allied troops. He subsisted on rations of potato soup and black bread, and battled the cold.

"The shoes we had, once they got wet, they stayed wet," he said. "One day in the prison camp I looked down and most of my toes were black. I rubbed and rubbed until I got some of the pink back."

But the damage was done. A prison physician amputated one toe and part of another. There was no anesthetic to give him, Gray said, but the frostbite was so complete he did not feel the operation.

Prison life was hard. He and the other prisoners emerged emaciated. But he believes it spared him from the worst of the war.

"It wasn't warm, but at least we were inside barracks," said Gray, who raised a family in Garden City. "The others, they were out fighting in the cold."

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