When I was growing up, Dad didn’t say much about his years in the Army. “First and only time I was on a boat and I ended up in Korea!” It took 21 days to get there, 16 to return home with 4,000 other soldiers. He also had his fill of rice while over there. I don’t remember him ever getting on another boat and I don’t remember mom ever fixing rice.
My hometown has a tank, an M-46, parked outside the VFW. This summer I wanted to take pictures of it and Dad went with me. Until then I never knew it was exactly like the one he drove in Korea. As we walked around it he gave me the specs:
*already eight years obsolete when I drove it; had $263,000 stamped on the side – Guess they wanted us to know how expensive it was!
*the armor plate on the front was 4″ thick; the rest 2″
*used rubber tracks on the pavement; steel tracks on the dirt – They unlatched and the tank just drove off of them.
*held 155 gallons of gas but used 3 to go just 1 mile
Afterward at The Big Plate Diner he finally told me part of his story. He spent 16 weeks in Basic Training at Ft. Knox, then 10 weeks in Leadership Training – which he did not like at all. But it was obvious he enjoyed the tank. Dad is nothing if not a big kid at heart.
“There were five guys in the tank – the tank commander, gunner, loader, driver and bow gunner – and we all had to know each position. The T.C., gunner and loader sat in the turret. We communicated through an intercom. I liked driving and gunner position the best. That tank drove as smooth as my Nissan Altima does. The M-47’s didn’t have a steering wheel, but a joy stick. We called it the ‘wobble stick’.
Once during range practice, my group was third or fourth in line. We were supposed to calibrate the distance to the target and raise or lower the gun to adjust for it. We didn’t know what were doing! So we just kept watching the guys ahead of us and when they missed, we checked where they had the gun. When it was our turn, we just moved it a little and we hit the darn thing! Made us look pretty good.
We had some fire power with us, one of the reasons they called them iron coffins. If we got hit . . . We had 90mm shells that weighed about 32lbs. each and were 3 feet long. Seventy-one rounds was an average load. Different colors meant they were either armor piercing for tanks or HE-high explosive-for people. We had a 50 caliber machine gun and a 30 caliber gun that worked with it on a co-axle. We had carbine rifles and we each carried a .45.While I was over there the peace treaty was broken. I was close to the DMZ. Our guard shifts were four hours long-saw a lot of shooting stars at night. I watched The Big Dipper rotate. Syvonne [Dad’s older brother] and I were over there the same time. That was hard on mom.”
I wasn’t surprised he thought of Grandma or that he’d noticed the stars.
While Dad told me his story, he checked to make sure I was getting all the details and getting them correctly. I hope I did! And I hope he’ll tell me and his grandchildren more stories. His enthusiasm was a big change from several years ago when my sisters and I bought him a paver for the local veterans’ memorial. He was grateful and touched, but a bit taken aback. “Everybody had to go back then. I didn’t really do anything.”
Dad, you served your country and for that – I’m proud of you and Thank You!
And to Uncle Roy who was there in Normandy, and to my family and friends who have served – Thank You!