Friday, February 21, 2014

My Crew

That's my tank and crew. Shortly after this picture we painted a name on the side; Gertie Gravel Guts. We had to wait until we shipped out to name her; they don't let you do things like that stateside, but once you hit a battle zone they don't much care what you do, as long as you fight.

And fight we did. In letters home we weren't allowed to say where we were, but the folks knew it was somewhere with sand. Lots and lots of sand. The sand was everywhere, not just in the letters. It was in the food, it was in our clothes, it was in the gas and it was in the tank. But old Gertie kept rolling.

We were in some battles together, her and us. But we don't talk about that around here. Too many good men dead. It was one thing in training to drop a round on target and watch the damage and cheer. I was quite another to drop a round on target and know that the explosion meant some other poor feller wasn't going home.

But you were; at least today.

But there were good times; we had some fun the 6 of us. You got to know a guy when you spent hour after hour trapped in a thick steel box with him. You found out who snored when they slept, who belched constantly, and who managed to need to pee every 2 hours no matter what was going on.

I remember our driver, a feller from out west somewhere, Oregon if I remember right, name of Johnson Karns. We just called him Westy. He could belch loud enough to make the inside of that tank ring like we just took a hit from a .50 cal round. Didn't matter what we fed him. He could work up a belch.

But it did matter what we fed him when it came to his other end. He was a farter. He claimed it was because he was raised on fresh fruit and all the dried and packaged food we ate messed with his indigestion. Not his digestion, but his in-digestion.

He could have been right. All I know is if he ate ham and canned peaches his farts would make the inside of that tank ring with the noise. I had other tankers tell me they could hear the noise two tanks over. But they were friendly farts; no smell.

The beef and taters on the other hand were the SbD variety; Silent, but Deadly. No warning at all, unless you were close enough to hear Westy shifting around in his seat. Then the end of your nose would start to involuntarily twitch, and would catch a whiff of some indeterminate smell. About the time you started to wonder what that odd odor was, the full assault would hit. An indescribable odor, usually mixed with the smell of burning hair. Yes, that was you nostril hair burning in protest.

If  a German soldier would have opened our tank during one of Westy's gas attacks it would have been a Geneva Convention violation, my hand to God.

Westy wasn't the only one with quirks. Our loader was a giant of a man; 6 foot 6 or better and weighed close to 270 pounds. He could shuffle them shells all day with out a miss. He was from out Denver way; went by the name of Homer Morris, but we called him Rocky. He bought 3 comic books the day we left Ft. Knox, and by the time we left Africa I think he was down to about 8 pages of the one book. That was all he did; sling 75mm shells and read them damn comic books. He had them all memorized, so even when the ink wore off a page he could still recall the joke and laugh every time he got to that part.

Our gunner was a Minnesota boy. I don't think I ever heard him say a full sentence, or even a word with more than two syllables. 'Yep' and 'Nope' seemed to all he needed to join a conversation. He had some Swedish last name none of the rest of us could say. I always thought he had just faked a last name by banging out some random keys on a typewriter. Jimmy was his given name, but we all just called him George. If I knew why I'd tell ya, but if I ever knew I can't tell ya now.

But I remember my crew. We swapped letters back and forth for a few years, and got together once 5 years after the war one summer up in New York City. We had sailed back in to New York after the war, and all of us swore we would get back and visit the Statue of Liberty. And we did. Made it all the way to the crown. All 6 of us and our families.

But some rotten SOB fed Westy some beef and taters for lunch.

My hand to God I swear I watched Lady Liberty drop her torch and grab her nose.

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