Ten years ago Farm and Dairy published a couple of my columns about my experiences in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. I’d like to rerun them (slightly revised) in honor of the veterans of that struggle, as well as the veterans of all our wars and especially, the men and women serving in our Armed Forces today.
This month is the 60th anniversary of the start of what was called at the time the Korean “Conflict”, or “Police Action”, actually a bitter war in which almost 37,000 Americans died. Although I never got shot at, I was privileged to spend sixteen months from late 1953 till the spring of 1955 on that far off peninsula.
When I volunteered for the draft in April of 1953, I was 19 and the war was still fitfully sputtering, although the Panmunjom Peace Talks were then in progress.
My civilian job at the time was driving a dump truck and I fully expected to while away my two years in the Army as a rear echelon type, behind the wheel of a deuce-and-a-half, or a five-ton truck.
Anyone who’s ever experienced the job placement system of the U.S. Army, knows that civilian experience takes a back seat to the “needs of the service.” Consequently, I found myself on a train to Fort Knox, Kentucky, where I began basic training as a tank driver.
It wasn’t bad, though. The M-47 tanks upon which we trained were fun to drive, with their 850 horsepower, Continental V-12 engines, and Allison cross-drive transmissions.
The driver controlled the huge beast by means of a wobble-stick at his right hand. Moving the stick to the front or rear put the transmission into low or high range, neutral, neutral steer or reverse. To steer, push the stick to the right, and the tank turned right, pull it toward yourself, and the machine turned left.
In the neutral steer position, moving the stick left or right caused one track to rotate in reverse, while the other rotated forward. This afforded a way to suddenly reverse the direction in which the tank was heading, undoubtedly a useful feature in combat.
Unfortunately, maybe because the tanks we trained on were well worn, such a maneuver often resulted in a thrown track, a situation not really desirable when there are enemy tanks or anti-tank guns in the vicinity.
At Fort Knox however, such an event seemed to be looked upon with glee by our drill sergeants, since the track usually came off in the center of a big mud hole. We, the trainees, then had the opportunity to wade, or more often, crawl, around in the red Kentucky mud, while we wrestled the heavy track back onto the sprocket, idlers, and road wheels, affording much entertainment to our trainers, who lounged comfortably out of the mire, all the while urging us to greater speed.
Naturally, everything in the Army must be scrupulously clean at all times, so we got to spend many happy hours (after a full day of training) cleaning the mud off our tanks. It was worth it though; I always got a thrill from driving a tank over rough terrain, cresting a steep rise with the front of the machine pointing into the air so you couldn’t see what was coming next.
Then, as the tracks went over center, the sudden dip and plunge down into a ravine and then power up the other side. If the ravine happened to be full of mud and water, so much the better, even when you knew you had to clean off all that mud when you got back to the motor pool.
The M-47 had a high-velocity 90 millimeter cannon that was a blast (pun alert) to fire. At the firing range, the targets were several old, wrecked trucks and tanks some distance from the firing line (I don’t remember the range of the guns).
I also don’t recollect the name of the gun sight, but it had five, black, rectangular dots, arranged in a V-formation. We called the dots “Flying Geese” and, to determine the range to the target, the bottom of the V had to be moved, by turning knobs, directly over top of the target in the gun sight.
When everything was ready, you pressed a button and the gun went off with a huge roar, and a puff of smoke. If the gunner watched closely through the gun sight, he could see the projectile arc through the air and then (hopefully) destroy the target.
The gun recoiled into the crowded turret and ejected the shell casing right at the loader’s feet. That individual was responsible for clearing the turret of spent shells, as well as immediately throwing another round into the gun chamber after firing.
The breech of the gun came to within a couple of inches if the radio on the rear wall of the turret upon recoil, and the gunner was cautioned to keep his head out of the way. We heard horror stories about careless gunners who bent over behind the breech to retrieve a spent shell just as the gunner fired.
I completed basic training about the end of August, went home for a week, and then back to Fort Knox for an eight week leadership school. A truce had been signed in Panmunjon by this time, so some of the pressure was off us, but we still trained as though our lives depended on it, as I’m sure they did. Near the end of October, I spent another week at home, and then left for the Far East.
I’ve had so much fun remembering all this stuff, that I’ve run out of space before I even get to Korea. More next time.
(Send suggestions, comments or questions to Sam Moore in care of Farm and Dairy, P.O. Box 38, Salem, OH 44460-0038; or via e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org)