The online edition
©2014, Aaron Elson
'We're Gonna Burn'
When they stopped you, you got out of that tank as quickly as possible. We carried almost 200 gallons of high octane gasoline, 102 octane I think it was, and it didnt take long to burn. The gas tank was on the side, toward the rear of the tank, on each side of the engine.
Usually the tank commander, if he wasnt disabled, was the first one out. The gunner usually was second, and his loader would be third. The assistant driver and the driver had their own hatches to come out. Now, they would have no problem getting out unless the gunner left the gun barrel over the top of one of their hatches, then they couldnt open that hatch. They would have to crawl across the transmission and get out the other side, which if they took that long to get out, a lot of them didnt get out, because the ammunition burning, the gasoline burning, it didnt take long seconds until that tank was completely involved in flames, same as an airplane. It was so quick.
Ill say one thing: We had the best-working escape hatch of anybody in the platoon. I used to oil that thing up good, so that when you touched the lever it would realy fall out.
Sometimes that was the only way of escape. If youre inside the tank and the hatches are down and the gun was traversed over your hatch, you cant open it to get out, you have to go out the other way.
I can remember always telling Klapkowski, "You sonofabitch, if we ever get knocked out, make sure that guns in the center, because if I cant get out because youve got the gun traversed over my hatch," I said, "Ill haunt you. Ill come and pull the sheets off of your bed."
They said there was no reason for the 75s not to fire, that all the powder would burn. We found out differently. One time I went to put a round in the breach, and it hung up there. Some of the powder was frozen, and didnt fully burn. I didnt know that, and after I went to throw the next round in, Klapkowski and [Luigi] Gramari had to go out of the tank and knock the round out of the breach with the rammer staff.
Klapkowski, he was crazy as a bedbug. He was one of the best gunners in the company, but he had other he probably thought I had faults, too, I dont know. But anyway, we had Gramari as a loader, Klapkowskis the gunner, and a round jammed after he fired. So Klapkowski got Gramari out there, and theyre hitting the front of the shell with the ramrod, which is a long wooden pole with a bell-shape at the end of it, and Klapkowski says, "Gramari, heres the secret of this." He says, "Dont hold the ramrod tight, hold it loose."
And Gramari says, "What do you hold it loose for?"
"Oh," Klapkowski says. "In case the round goes off while youre standing in front of the barrel, you wont get splinters."
I said, "Klapkowski, thats no thing to say." He scared the hell out of Gramari. I was young but Gramari was a kid. I think he was 18 years old. I finally told Klapkowski off. Hed say to Gramari, "We aint gonna make it. You know whats gonna happen? Someday, the tanks gonna get hit," and he says, "Lombardis gonna go to get out," hes the first one to get up, hes in the turret there, "hes gonna get shot and hes gonna come down inside on top of me, on top of you, and you aint gonna make it, and the tanks gonna be on fire," and I, I just blew up, I told him, "Stop talking that way." Because hes making me scared.
"Were gonna burn! Were gonna burn!" Klapkowski would say this to Gramari, all the time. "Youre gonna burn! Youre gonna burn!" He used to pull the same crap on me. I said to him, "Hey, I burn, youre gonna burn, too." So he had to stop giving me that crap.
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