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Tanks for the Memories

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They were all young kids

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2014, Aaron Elson.


Tanks for the Memories

The online edition

2000, 2007, Chi Chi Press

Chapter 7

The Frying Pan


Ruby Goldstein

    One time when we were on maneuvers in Tennessee, my tank was guarding a road — this was all simulation — and the water in our five-gallon can was awful. You couldn’t drink it.

    There was a farmhouse by the road, so I went and knocked on the door. A woman answered, and I asked her if she had any fresh water.

    She said yes, so I went back to the tank and dumped the five gallons of water out — I wasn’t gonna do it in front of her house — and when I returned with the empty can, she took me to a cave in the side of a mountain. There were rocks inside, and water was coming down from somewhere in the mountain.

    It was crystal-clear water. I took a drink with my canteen cup. Never in my life did I taste water that delicious.

    So I filled the five-gallon can to bring back to my crew. Then the woman says, "Are you fellows hungry?"

    "Well, kind of."

    You know what she did? She went out, and she had some fresh-killed chickens. She took the chickens, she had them all cleaned up and ready, and we had southern fried chicken, and she made biscuits for us, we were there for quite a while.

 Tony D’Arpino

    You know, I’ve thought of this many times, if I knew then what I know now, I’d have kept a diary. With names of towns. I can remember when our company took Rheims, where they make champagne.

    Now, the first tank we had, behind the driver and the assistant driver there was a cubbyhole for shells for the 75-millimeter gun. But every time you wanted one of them, you’d skin your knuckles trying to get them out of there, so we never used it. Instead we would pile the extra ammunition on the turret floor. So when we got to Rheims, ol’ Tony got the bright idea, pink champagne. I had every one of those cubbyholes filled with pink champagne. I was drinking pink champagne for breakfast, dinner and supper.

Ed Spahr

    Corporal Ed Spahr, of Carlisle, Pa., joined the 712th as a replacement in Normandy. He was a loader, and then a gunner, in C Company.

    We used to have an old frying pan hanging on the back of the tank. We never washed it in water. The exhaust fumes would blow on it.

    We’d stop if we saw something. One time we caught a rabbit. The rabbits were large over there, and we had chicken and rabbit at the same time. We were out in the field, so no one knew about us eating this wild stuff.

    This pan would be so dirty, and we had a bucket hanging on the back of the tank as well, we used to brew coffee in it. That bucket was so black, you’d swear it was blacker than the coffee. Every time we’d get ready to eat, we’d make coffee in this, and we would say, "Well, if the meat is contaminated, if the chicken is contaminated and the rabbit is contaminated and the water around here is contaminated, these pans can’t be contaminated because there’s nothing on them but road dust and exhaust fumes," and we’d eat like kings.

    We’d all joke and josh about things like that, and somebody would make some remark like, "Well, overeating with poisonous food is better than dying with a bullet."

Ruby Goldstein

    We didn’t have the kitchen trucks very often, so whatever you could scrounge you scrounged. We would get these big cans, put a little hole on each side, and put a piece of wire through the holes. And we built a fire. We put dirt in the bottom, made holes in the bottom, put some gasoline on it, and put a smaller can on top of it, with a little bit of water. Then we went scrounging for vegetables.

    One day we hit a potato field. So if you hold your lever and you gun the engine, the tank turns, one tread’s stopped and you’re turning. And what are you digging up? Potatoes.

    We’d peel the potatoes, chunk them up, throw them in. We had cans of English style stew. And we’d throw in whatever vegetables we could find. And you know something? It was the best thing you ever tasted.

Tony D’Arpino

    I can’t remember who thought of the idea first, but you get an empty five-gallon can with a handle on it, something like painters use; you put gravel on the bottom, about six inches, and then you put some potatoes. Then you put about six more inches of gravel on top. And you tie it underneath — the tank had two exhausts coming out, you tie it to that. And after running all day long, the potatoes are baked. We put the gravel on it so we don’t get the smell. We used to have baked potatoes all the time.

Dick Greca

    Sergeant Richard Greca was part of a maintenance crew.

    In Service Company, we’d go fishing with hand grenades. Throw ’em in the river, and fish would come up, big German brown trout, and we’d pick ’em up.

    Then one day I was in a little rowboat and I dropped one off the side of it, that’s the last time I did that, because I discovered that the water wasn’t too deep.

    One night we went up to check the tanks, and the crew heard us talking, and they got scared and thought it was the Germans out there, so they threw a hand grenade out. Two of us got hit, but not serious.

    I jumped under the tank, so I wouldn’t get the shrapnel, and then the doggone tank started to move. I said, "Now what?!" I got out of there real quick.

 George Bussell

    One day Eugene Crawford said we were gonna get some eggs.

    I said, "How the hell are we gonna get eggs? We can’t speak French."

    He said, "I know how to ask for eggs. You go up and knock on the door, and when they come to the door, you say, "Avez vous des ‘erf.’"

    I said, "Is that right?"

    He said, "Sure."

    That’s all he knew how to say. So he walks in there, he knocks on the door, and this woman comes out, and he says, "Avez vous des ‘erf’?" And she shakes her head no, and he says, "Well then, where can I get some?"

Ruby Goldstein

    One day when I was in the replacement depot waiting to rejoin the battalion, we were getting hungry. It was after breakfast, and it’s getting close to noontime, and who knows when the heck you’re gonna get chow, or what you’re gonna get.

    So this fellow and I, we take a walk, and we get to a farmhouse, where we get some eggs. But we bought ’em. The Germans wouldn’t buy them. They’d take what they want. I had some francs in my pocket. I said, "Give me six eggs."

    I put ’em in my field jacket, three in one pocket, three in another. We go along, go into another farmhouse, and I want some more eggs.

    The woman in the house could understand what I wanted. She goes out to get the eggs, and I go to sit down — forget it! I made a mistake. I crushed the six eggs in my pockets. What a mess I had!

    I got the other six eggs. I cleaned up as best I could. I cleaned out my pockets. Then I said, if she had a rabbit we could buy a rabbit. So it cost me, I think it was ten francs, it’s two cents a franc, twenty cents, and I got a rabbit. It was a nice, big, fat one.

    We get back to camp, we said, "How the hell are we gonna kill this and cook it?" So this one kid from down South, I don’t remember his name, he says, "I’ll show you how we do it."

    He takes the rabbit by the hind legs, on the tree, Bam! Hits the head right on the tree, holds the hind legs, puts the rabbit on the ground, puts his foot under the neck, and pulls his head right off. Then he takes a knife and guts it.

    We got a couple of branches from a tree, and two forks, cleaned them off, dug a little pit, and started a fire. I got some salt from a guy, and we poured it all inside of the rabbit to clean it out, we didn’t have any water. We poured all the salt, and we’re scraping it with knives to clean it out, and everybody, their mouths were getting full of saliva, you know, we’re gonna have something to eat.

    We turned that thing, and we’re turning it and turning it, it should be done by now. We break a piece off and go to eat it.

    Did you ever eat shoe leather? You started chewing, you figured look, it’s better than nothing. You spit it out, you couldn’t eat it.

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