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John Amerspek 1921 – 2013

John Amerspek passed away on December 25, 2013.  He wrote this obituary before he passed, and it appeared in The Daily Record. 

John P. Amerspek

Born in Passaic, NJ., in 1921 to Paul and Anna (Dickman) Amerspek, he lived in Garfield and Fairlawn, before moving to Succasunna in 1963. He received a B.S. Degree from Fairleigh Dickinsin University in 1951 and an M.S. Degree from Stevens Institute of Technology in 1956. He received Phi Beta Kappa and Phi Omega Epsilon scholastic honors. He was President of his graduating class, President of the Alumni Association and Alumni Representative and member of the Fairleigh Dickinson University Board of Trustees.

He was Adjunct Associate Professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University and County College of Morris for over 30 years. Mr. Amerspek retired from Picatinny Arsenal as an Industrial Engineer and Executive in 1981. He served in many leadership positions including Civilian Deputy to the Commander of the installation of over 7,000 people. He participated directly in the development and production of high priority weapon systems for all our military services. Some of these programs had the personal attention and interest of former Presidents, Eisenhower and Kennedy.

After retirement from Government Service, he established an organization of former key employees of Picatinny and supportive legislators to keep Picatinny from the Department of Defense Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) listing. Thousands of jobs and a great financial impact to the community at large were at stake along with maintaining a critical armament defense capability for our Armed Forces. The effort involved lobbying in Washington, DC., and in the industrial sector. After retiring he was a consultant for defense industries for many years.

During WWII he served in the Army and was a decorated soldier at the Mediterranean and European theatres of war. He served overseas for 3 years and participated in 5 invasions (North Africa, Sicily, Salerno, Anzio and Southern France) and received 11 battle stars. He was cited for courage at the Anzio Beach Head. He received citations from the French Government for his combat service in the liberation of France. Through the support of Congressman Ronald Frelinghuysen the 112 session of congress paid tribute to John Amerspek.

Mr. Amerspek was the first President and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Picatinny Chapter, National Defense Industrial Association. He served as leader of the Chapter for over 30 years. He developed recognition award programs to recognize people in government and industry that made significant contributions in the defense of our country. He led the establishment of a scholarship program for high school seniors entering college. To date, hundreds of deserving students received scholarships involving many millions of dollars. Because of his leadership vision and performance, the Picatinny Chapter established an honorarium perpetual scholarship endowment fund in his name at the County College of Morris. He was instrumental in the creation and conduct of a wide number of International Technical Symposia to advance the education of technology for future weapon systems. He received the National Defense Industrial Association’s Gold Medal Award and the Ordnance Gold Medallion. The US Army awarded him its second highest Award, the Meritorious Civilian Service Award twice, and the Exceptional Service Award (highest civilian award). He received the Commanders Award and Outstanding Civilian Service Award (metropolitan area).

He established and was a member of the US Army Armament Research, Development Advisory Council. The Council includes senior leadership from industry and the arsenal and senior military officers. The US Army Armament, Research Development Engineering Center at Picatinny Arsenal, dedicated and named its Executive Conference room after John Amerspek, in honor of his accomplishments and support to the Army. Mr. Amerspek was a parishioner of St. Therese RC Church in Succasunna, where he served as a Eucharistic Minister and was Chairman of the Church Building and Finance committee. Mr. Amerspek was a member of the Anzio Beach Head Veterans Ass, Honorary Society of St. Barbara (patron saint of artillery), Knights of Columbus, National Defense Industrial Association, Chairman of Concerned Responsible Individuals to Support Picatinny Defense Committee, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2833 of Kenvil, American Legion Post 391 of Mine Hill, Association of US Army, Picatinny Golf Club, Alumni Association of Fairleigh Dickinsin University and Stevens Institute of Technology.



This book is dedicated to the infantryman:

The rifleman suffers the most. Infantry has the highest casualties. As indicated in this book, a scarcity of infantry occurred many times. I was not classified officially as such, but was so trained and was required to fight in that role many times. If I had been an infantryman from the outset, this would never have been written. I would have been a casualty long ago.

The Vermont

John was part of a small self-contained group of specialists that consisted of a platoon of 25 soldiers that provided early-warning radar detection of German aircraft.

…Our group, called Vermont, contained a cook, medic, drivers, radar operators, maintenance people and security. 

Our mission was to locate either at the forward edge of the battle line (since in the early stages of the war early-warning radars had limited range), or locate on top of a knoll or hill to detect low-flying enemy aircraft that flew under the radar screen to keep from being detected.  Once enemy aircraft were detected by our radar, a message would be radioed to Command Headquarters to alert our aircraft and anti-aircraft batteries.  

We were a prime and obvious target to enemy aircraft, being very conspicuous at our higher level. We also had the training and capability to defend ourselves and to support the infantry, since we were located near them.  Such support increased as the ranks of our infantry were decreased by high casualties and more and more crises occurred…

Approaching Dachau

In his book, John describes some of the horrors he witnessed during the liberation of Dachau.  However, as they approached they had no idea what they were about to encounter:

…We mounted our vehicles and pushed towards the city of Munich.  Enroute, we passed town after town, all showing the white flags of surrender.  We had a sense that the war might be coming to a close.  

One evening we approached our positions on a hilltop overlooking a town in the distance, dominated by an industrial complex, with a large chimney within a cluster of red brick buildings and rows of wooden one-story barrack-type structures.

We were cold and tired from being on the move all day chasing the enemy.  Their retreat was marked by periods of punishing ambushes, which delayed but did not stop our momentum.  As we stabilized our position, we did not dig in, for we were not concerned about an attack, air strike or artillery fire at this time. Nearby was a pyramid-shaped domed structure, which turned out to be a large brick-curing oven building.  This was a real find since the interior was still warm and comfortable.  Many of us stayed in the building throughout the night, in relative comfort.

In the morning we moved out into the valley and the town itself, with no opposition.  We noticed that the town was named Dachau, which didn’t mean anything to us at that time.  

Upon reaching the area that we’d identified as an industrial complex the night before, we noticed a high metal mesh fence enclosing the compound.  We heard sporadic gunfire as we infiltrated the area.  The entrance to the complex was a large gate that was open, with a large sign on top with an eagle and swastika.  The sign read in German ‘Arbeit Macht Frei,’ loosely translated meaning ‘labor makes free’…

Commending 30 Years of Service

This oil painting was given to John Amerspek on his retirement from Picatinny Arsenal after over 30 years of service. It depicts some of the ammunition projects he managed.

jpa painting 156kb