The Oral History Store

Aaron's Author Page










Aaron's Blog



smallfolliescover.jpg (20704 bytes)

Follies of a Navy Chaplain

tftm2 cover

Tanks for the Memories

young kids cover

They were all young kids

smalllovecompanycover.jpg (14674 bytes)

Love Company

A Mile in Their Shoes

A Mile in Their Shoes

nine lives

Nine Lives

2014, Aaron Elson


Tanks for the Memories

The online edition

2014, Aaron Elson

Chapter 18

'We're Gonna Burn'

Ed Spahr

    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 didn’t 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 wasn’t 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 couldn’t 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 didn’t get out, because the ammunition burning, the gasoline burning, it didn’t take long — seconds — until that tank was completely involved in flames, same as an airplane. It was so quick.

Tony D’Arpino

    I’ll 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 you’re inside the tank and the hatches are down and the gun was traversed over your hatch, you can’t 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 gun’s in the center, because if I can’t get out because you’ve got the gun traversed over my hatch," I said, "I’ll haunt you. I’ll come and pull the sheets off of your bed."

Bob Rossi

    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 didn’t fully burn. I didn’t 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.

Tony D’Arpino

    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 don’t know. But anyway, we had Gramari as a loader, Klapkowski’s the gunner, and a round jammed after he fired. So Klapkowski got Gramari out there, and they’re 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, here’s the secret of this." He says, "Don’t 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 you’re standing in front of the barrel, you won’t get splinters."

    I said, "Klapkowski, that’s 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. He’d say to Gramari, "We ain’t gonna make it. You know what’s gonna happen? Someday, the tank’s gonna get hit," and he says, "Lombardi’s gonna go to get out," he’s the first one to get up, he’s in the turret there, "he’s gonna get shot and he’s gonna come down inside on top of me, on top of you, and you ain’t gonna make it, and the tank’s gonna be on fire," and I, I just blew up, I told him, "Stop talking that way." Because he’s making me scared.

Bob Rossi

    "We’re gonna burn! We’re gonna burn!" Klapkowski would say this to Gramari, all the time. "You’re gonna burn! You’re gonna burn!" He used to pull the same crap on me. I said to him, "Hey, I burn, you’re gonna burn, too." So he had to stop giving me that crap.

- - - -