Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Still More Confusion

Richardson and I were in the same squad, a squad responsible for the maintenance of a number of tanks. One of the maintenance functions was seasonal - the oil changes: thinner oil in winter, heavier oil in summer.

I do not recall how many quarts of oil those M48s required. Twenty? Thirty? In any event, the way we changed the oil was:

· Shovel a couple of feet of sawdust into a concrete trench which was perhaps a dozen feet long and about two thirds the width of the tank.

· Drive the tank over the trench.

· Put on class "X" fatigues and boots. These were items that were otherwise unusable, and it didn't matter that they were about to be saturated with dirty oil.

· Get into the trench, reach up, twist off the cap, and let the oil come pouring out - down your arm initially, into the sawdust eventually.

· Exit the trench and wait for the oil to empty completely.

· Get back into the trench, wade over and twist the cap back on.

· Exit the trench and fill 'er up with new oil.

· Back the tank away from the trench.

· Get into the trench with a bucket and shovel out the sawdust and oil.

One day Richardson was to change the oil in a tank, and he forgot one step. Yep, that's right, that step. When the oil had drained he didn't screw the cap back on. The fresh oil went in the top and flowed out the bottom for who knows how long. Eventually, someone noticed that he had been at it a long time and used a lot of oil, walked over, examined the situation, and discovered that the sawdust was awash in a veritable ocean of oil.

Richardson had to wade hip deep in oil and sawdust to put the cap back on. After the oil was replaced the entire squad donned class X fatigues, grabbed buckets and shovels, and emptied the trench, alternately laughing and cursing.

Time passed and Richardson was transferred to 2nd Echelon Maintenance, where he didn't do a great job. He was to be given one more chance, and was sent for training on the new M60 tanks we were to receive.

He returned, full of knowledge and proud of it, and we got our first M60. It was driven by someone to the middle of the concrete between the tank sheds, and the NCO in charge ordered Richardson into the tank.

"Turn the turret to the right." Whirrrrrr, and the turret turned to the right at a pretty good clip, it being hydraulic.

"Turn the turret to the front." Whirrrrrrr, the turret turned to the front.

"Raise the gun." Mmmmmmmmm, the gun,already pointed front, was raised.

"Lower the gun." Mmmmmmmmm, the gun was lowered, almost touching the ground in front of the driver's hatch.

"Raise the gun." Mmmmmppphmpppphmpppph. The gun bucked and quivered, but stayed put.

"Raise the gun." Mmmmmppphmpppphmpppph. No dice.

"RAISE THE GUN!" Mmmmmppphmpppphmpppph. Not today, Sarge.

Gun and tank were too long for any of the sheds, so there they sat, covered with canvas, for a couple of weeks. Eventually, an armored division familiar with the M60 came through our area, and one of the NCOs fixed the problem.

Richardson was transferred to the company mailroom.

Not long thereafter, I got my third bout of pneumonia, got kicked out of the Armored Corps, and was sent to the orderly room to be the company clerk.

One night several months later, in the Casino, a gasthaus in Vilseck, I was approached by a burly gentleman about 20 years older than I, dressed in civilian clothes.

"Are you with Headquarters Company?"

"I am."

"I oughta punch you right in the mouth."

(Whaaaaa?) "Why? Who are you?"

He was, in fact, the First Sergeant of the 663rd Ordinance Company, a neighboring outfit. "You almost killed my wife. You threw a fifty pound sack of mail out of the second floor window of the EM (Enlisted Men's) Club and just missed her."

I called one of my friends over and said, "This is six-six-three's First Sergeant. Would you tell him my name?"

"Donnie Richards."

"And our mail clerk's name?"

"Mike Richardson."


The First Sergeant's mouth opened and closed a couple of times, he began to look sheepish, and he said, "I'm sorry. Let me buy you a beer."

I speculate that he had come to the Casino and asked one of the German waitresses about "Richardson," and that she confused it with "Richards" and pointed me out to him when I arrived. But the confusion may have started earlier. I don't know what led him to the Casino, as I never saw Richardson in Vilseck.

Oh well, all's well etc.

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