Wednesday, October 29, 2014

"Fury" Brings Back Memories of Tank Gunnery and Life in a Turret.


On Monday night my son Nigel and three men from Church went to see "Fury" with me.  I re-read books I love and will watch movies and TV shows I like a second, third, or more times.  Re-reading and re-watching takes away the delight of surprise that only the first time can offer, but removing surprise lets the best moments sink in more deeply.

In 1976 I spent more time inside my tank "Bad Bitch" than at any other time in my Army career.  That year our brigade was training to go to Germany for three years as Brigade '76--4,000 combat soldiers with an alert area in Fulda, West Germany:  the place where everyone thought the ground war with the Soviet Army in Europe would start.  Tom Clancy wrote his best novel about that war:  "Red Storm Rising."

In the Spring of 1976, the 54 tanks of 1st Battalion, 70th Armor, spent three weeks in the Colorado desert for annual gunnery training.  For three months before that I read the 700-page maintenance and operation manual for the M60A1 Patton tank I commanded from cover to cover.  I came to the Army from the Air Force and was determined to be as good as the Army at tank gunnery.

For three months before gunnery, my crew was the last to go home at night, and sometimes was in on weekends when everyone else was off so we could drill on every aspect of tank gunnery.  Some afternoons we drove to the top of a hill near the motor pool and tracked cars on Interstate 25.  Moving targets are difficult with a tank cannon.  We drilled on tracking targets for hours.

One of the things "Fury" gets so right is how different the members of a crew can be and how well they can work together confined in a turret despite all those differences.  My gunner was Specialist Morris.  His nickname was "Merc."  Because Mercury Morris was a start running back of the 70s.  I was a starched, creased ambitious young sergeant.  Merc was a very good gunner, but a wrinkled, complaining soldier who was at his best after smoking dope.  Outside the tank we would not spend two minutes together.  Inside Merc and I became a team that could hit targets, even if we could never hit it off.

We had an amazing loader in Eugene "Geno" Pierce.  Geno was big, strong and quick.  He could flip and armor-piercing round into the breach one-handed in two seconds and have the second round in the chamber while the first one was still rattling to the bottom of the turret after the first shot.  Our driver, Rich Burhans, was a lanky, laid-back Minnesotan.  He was perfect as a driver.  He could wait calmly during long delays and then driver the 54-ton tank smoothly down the firing lanes.

On the final day of tank gunnery when we were next up to fire on the moving range, Merc walked off into the woods to "have a smoke."  He came back calm and happy.  We were ready to fire.  Would three months of practice really pay off on the ten-minute "Final Exam" for tankers?

Next post.

Other posts on Fury:

Fourth time watching Fury

Review

Faith in Fury

Memories

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