Sunday, January 13, 2008

More Confusion

A couple of months after the petroleum dump incident, Richardson and I were on guard duty again. This time the Sergeant of the Guard took the precaution of assigning Richardson a well lighted station - the post's gate on the road which led to the town of Vilseck.

The precise protocol for leaving the post required a pedestrian, cyclist, or automobile driver to stop and present identification for verification by the gate guard. If someone did not stop, protocol required the guard to shout "Halt!" three times before taking any action.

However, hundreds of German men and women from Vilseck and other nearby towns worked on post, and at quitting time many of them exited by bicycle. The gate was at the bottom of a hill, and not wanting to lose the bikes' momentum, the civilians would glide by, simply holding up their IDs in the hand nearest the gate.

Richardson's first shift included quitting time for most Germans. The first cyclist through was a middle aged putzfrau who sped down the hill, held up her ID, and sailed right by Richardson, smiling.

"HALT!HALT!HALT!" BANG BANG BANG . . . . Richardson emptied his whole magazine of .45 caliber rounds, aiming at the putzfrau but hitting nothing within sight. The putzfrau redoubled her pedaling efforts and when she got home had quite a story to tell her friends and family. After she changed her underwear.

Once again the Sergeant of the Guard was disgusted. Another incident report to file, this one to account for an entire magazine of rounds fired at an unsuspecting civilian bicyclist.

From that day on, all guards were issued blank rounds.

Richardson just was not good at anything job related, although Lord knows he tried. He was a good soldier in the spit and polish sense, but his job related thoughts were from some other universe.

Toward the end of my time as a tank crewman, Richardson (who was also a tank crewman), managed several blunders which I'll tell you about in the near future. I want to finish this post by relating the story of my victimization in an incident staged by my good and faithful friend, squad mate, and constant companion, Johnny.

Truthfully, I was a fish out of water as a tank crewman. I am not handy, I have little common sense regarding the physical world, and frequently things that are obvious to other people are not obvious to me.

The tanks that we had were M48 A1s and M48 A2s, 48 ton tanks with 90 mm guns, all the same size externally. The day came when we received our first M60, 12 tons heavier, a few inches wider, a foot or two longer, carrying a 105 mm gun.

Now when you take a tank out into the field and drive through mud and dirt, perhaps knock down trees or whatever, a lot of junk gets stuck in the treads, and the first thing you do when you get back is clean the tank. We would get a head start on this by driving the tank through the "birdbath," a concrete trench with a washboard bottom, sloping ramps at each end, maybe five feet high and containing perhaps three or four feet of water. Driving a tank through this would knock out most of the clumps of dirt and mud, although not the branches or bushes that fouled the tread.

Any time you drive a tank on post, you have a "ground guide," a person who walks in front of you (although off to the side a little) and signals you to go faster, slower, turn left, etc. I was to be the first driver through the birdbath with the new M60. Being a little wider than the M48s, this tank was a tighter fit with the birdbath, leaving only a couple of inches between tank and concrete on each side, so I kept my eyes riveted on my ground guide, who was my good and faithful friend, squad mate, and constant companion, Johnny.

I reached the ramp I would enter, the tank tilted a little and I stopped. Johnny took a look, was satisfied that the tank would not hit the concrete on either side, and gave me the signal to proceed. As soon as I began, he pumped his arm, signalling me to go faster. I did so, and about halfway to the bottom of the birdbath I noticed that the tank had created a wave larger than usual, due to the additional size of the tank. Oh well, who cares; it's going the other way.

As the tank leveled out, Johnny kept pumping for me to go faster. Now going faster gave the tank a little more of a bounce on the washboard bottom and knocked out more of the crud, but it seemed to me I was going pretty fast. Still, I obeyed. All of a sudden, Johnny lost it. He collapsed in laughter. I looked up and that wave was coming back, its top about a foot above my head.

Goddamnit, I'm gonna kill that SOB. I reached under the seat and pulled the lever that allowed the seat to drop and to take me below the level of the hatch, but as I reached for the lever to close the hatch, the wave struck.

I jumped up into the turret and stuck my head and shoulders out, looking like a drowned rat, I'm sure. My entire squad and most of the rest of the tank section was behind me, all laughing hysterically, some of them actually lying on the ground, and off to the side that was the case with my good and faithful friend, squad mate, and constant companion, Johnny.

Apparently, I had been the only one who didn't realize - and was not told in advance - what would happen.


1 comment:

dramlin said...

Friends. Gotta love 'em, right?