Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Never Let a Supply Clerk Drive Your Tank

This is an edited and shortened excerpt from a book I have been writing for thirty or so years.

None of it should have happened. Had I not been so enthused about the idea of “playing solder,” it wouldn’t have.

I had been an armor platoon leader for about three months. The only time I had been around my tanks was when they were parked in the motor pool. That day the company was going to the field to practice retrograde (the army’s euphemism for “retreat”) operations. I would have the opportunity not only to command my tank, but also my platoon of five tanks.

Unfortunately, that morning I also had to go to the brigade headquarters on some sort of business. I no longer remember what the “business” was. However, I do remember that I completed it as soon as possible and somehow obtained a ride to the training area where “B” Company was maneuvering.

When I arrived, I learned that my tank driver had had to return to the billets. So here I was, my tank (nicknamed “Backache” for some very good reasons) waiting for me, ready to really command my platoon, and I had no driver. Of course, I could have taken command of one of the other tanks, but that didn’t seem “fair.” I was about to sit out the training exercise and allow my platoon sergeant to continue commanding the platoon when someone reminded me that our company supply clerk had been trained as a driver. So, with the permission of my company commander, I enlisted the clerk to drive Backache.

Finally I was commanding an armor platoon! My tanks took up their defensive position. At the command from the C.O., the platoon in front of us moved out of their position and took up a new position behind us. Then the C.O. ordered us to do the same. And that is when it happened.

My supply clerk of a driver accelerated the tank to a speed that sent those of us inside of` it bouncing around off steel. I was standing in the commander’s position with my upper body extended above the turret. And I was holding on with both hands as we bounced across the rough terrain.

The helmet of a tanker contains a radio/intercom. There is a switch on the left side of it that allows one to either broadcast on the radio or speak to the tank crew via the intercom. My switch was set on “broadcast” because I was in communication with my commanding officer. To switch to intercom so that I could communicate with the driver, I had to let go one of my hands that were holding on to the tank for dear life and throw the switch. Just as I did, the tank went over a ridge and I was thrown up into the air. When I came down, my left leg hit the sharp corner of the steel hand grenade box. I felt a sharp pain in my leg. The helmet’s radio had become unplugged and I was bouncing around inside the turret, as were the rest of the crew, the gunner and the loader. And my supply clerk driver continued to drive as if he was in the Indianapolis 500.

When the gun tube of a tank is pointed forward, those in the main compartment cannot see the driver. However, when it is pointed over the back deck of the tank, the driver can climb out of his compartment or someone else can climb into it. The gunner can control the position of the gun tube and that’s exactly what he did: he rotated the tube toward the back deck and then grabbed the back of the driver’s shirt. When he got the driver's attention, he yelled, “”Stop this damned thing!” The tank slowed and stopped.

I pulled my self to my feet and climbed out of the turret onto the deck, intending to walk to the driver’s area and have a few select words with this would-be Parnelli Jones. As I walked across the deck, I felt something running down my leg. I looked down and saw the V-shaped tear in my fatigue pants that had been made when I hit the hand grenade box. Then I saw the blood. Lots of blood. And that’s when I collapsed on the deck of my tank.

That’s part one of the story, which I know is kinda gory. But it isn’t the end of the story—far from it. My trip to the military hospital in Wurzburg and what happened there is much like an episode from M*A*S*H. I’ll post that part next.


  1. Oh my gosh! I can't wait to hear the rest of the story!

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