Retired engineer manned 90 mm guns in World War II

WARREN – As the son of a New York Central Railroad conductor who grew up in Hubbard in the 1920s and ’30s, Al Kosiba was like many young men of the day.

”I had already gotten a job, but then the draft notice came and I was off to Cleveland and then Camp Perry near Toledo,” said Kosiba, a retired Packard Electric engineer who has lived in Howland the past 40 years.

And like many of the World War II vets, Kosiba ”simply did his job and then quietly came home and raised a family with no fuss,” said Don Hyde, a neighbor who lives across the street from Kosiba and his wife, Gloria.

A well-read man who is eager to preserve the past, Kosiba – when he’s not spending time on the golf course with his buddies – has jotted down and started taping his own personal facts and thoughts about the war.

He wants his seven grandchildren and great-grandchild – soon to be joined by a second one – to know what he did between the summer 1942 and December 1945.

He wants them to know about his basic training at Camp Wallace, Texas, and his specialized training at Camp Davis, N.C., that led to his expertise with the 90 millimeter guns that were first designed as artillery to protect coastlines.

”After that, I couldn’t believe they gave us a choice of where we wanted to go next,” he said.

His choice was Fort Bliss, Texas, an old cavalry camp where he developed the finer points of using radar to control the flight of the shots that would later be used to defend airfields in France and Belgium while Gen. George Patton made his push toward Germany.

The technical aspects of maneuvering the big guns might have been what led Kosiba into the field of engineering and designing the dashboard connections for General Motor products. It turned out to be his life’s work.

But the military also produced friends that remained a part of Kosiba’s life for years after wartime. He made it to several reunions to keep track of the Army buddies, many of them from the Buffalo and Syracuse area.

He can still pick out buddies by name from old snapshots.

”Here’s one that shows those marks on the side of the equipment. Each one represents a plane that was shot down,” said Kosiba, pointing out stickers on the side of a field office only the size of a semi trailer. The climate-controlled office housed those manning the radar and sending coordinates to those loading shells and setting the positions of the guns. A crew of seven handled each of four guns.

After practicing the art of target shooting in the open deserts of New Mexico, Kosiba and his unit got orders to ship out overseas.

His C battery and the other three in his unit left Boston in early 1944 on a cruise he hasn’t forgotten.

”We were in bunks stacked eight beds high. I was in the second bunk. Everybody started getting seasick. Pretty soon it caught up with me,” Kosiba said.

It took about 14 days to get to Wales before setting up camp in Leek, England, where blackouts were the norm and where the assignment meant defending Great Britain.

It was there that Kosiba and the men he fought with became acquainted with the latest weapon unleashed by the Germans.

The V-1, or ”buzz bomb,” was a pilotless plane with a wingspan of about 20 feet that was considered disposable. They were medium-range cruise missiles launched from bases in northern France, the Netherlands and western Germany to attack points in England, France and Belgium.

”We learned quickly what they sounded like. You could hear the buzzing sound before they would hit,” said Kosiba, describing the limited amount of time they had to get a bead on the flying explosive.

Kosiba’s unit was only semi-mobile and needed trucks and heavy equipment to re-position the guns, including in early July 1944 when they were sent across the English Channel to Omaha Beach about a month after the historic and bloody landing by the infantry.

”We never saw the initial phase since we landed D-plus 30. there was still some shooting going on though. There was a time it seemed like we were living on lettuce and ice cream for some reason,” he said.

Eventually, guns were set up eight to 10 miles inland to protect the 9th Air Force and an air strip used by fighters. It was the big push from there, with Patton’s army advancing.

Kosiba recalls one day when he watched an estimated 3,000 aircraft of all kinds flying toward St.-Lo, France.

”It was spectacular. It’s like a saw it yesterday,” he said.

When the announcement came declaring the war in Europe over, Kosiba and his unit were escorting German prisoners of war back to POW camps in France.

It wasn’t long before Kosiba was back in the U.S.A. – just in time for Christmas 1945.