A quick snapshot of me, a pensive young Sergeant, taken late Friday afternoon, October 9, 1981. With a gear-filled duffle bag in the back of my 1977 Chevy Vega hatchback, and a stomach full of butterflies, I was headed to the White Rock Lake armory near Dallas, Texas where my unit, Company B, 1st Battalion, 112th Armor, 49th Armored Division of the Texas Army National Guard, was forming up. I would soon be on my way to Fort Hood, Texas for three days of tank maneuvers and tactical training.

Having had no training as an armored soldier, and still new to the unit, I dreaded this weekend because this was the first time I would go to the field with Company B. I knew how to march, how to salute the correct way, who to salute, and what a tank was, but that was about it. I would have to rely on resilience and common sense to make this trip successful and prove to myself, and to others, I could be a good Guardsman.

Concurrently, I was a Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) cadet under contract with the Department of Military Science at The University of Texas at Arlington (UTA). After graduating from high school and a short vacation to Cancun, Mexico, I began an accelerated ROTC curriculum. I would complete the first two years of ROTC training during the two summer semesters before my third year in college. By the time I was a junior, I would have enough credits and ROTC training to be eligible for a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the Texas Army National Guard. Upon completion of a bachelor's degree, I would carry the commission to the Army Reserve.

That was the plan.

By the time September rolled around I found myself as an MS III (Military Science III) cadet, having completed my MS I and MS II levels that June, July, and August with my guard unit. As an MS III cadet I was eligible for the Simultaneous Membership Program (SMP). The SMP program paired an ROTC cadet with a local National Guard unit, ostensibly to gain experience and training prior to commission.

A contract was signed with the Army National Guard and I was appointed as a Sergeant with a pay grade of E-5 at $92.50 a month. As a ROTC cadet my pay was $100 per month.

So there I am, standing next to my Vega, Sergeant chevrons pinned to my collars and a 49th Armored Division patch on my left shoulder, nervous as hell, rather wishing I could be partying with my Kappa Alpha Order fraternity brothers instead of heading to Fort Hood for field training.

When I arrived at the armory it was just about dark. I could see the buses, their yellow hazard lights blinking, waiting to take B Company to Fort Hood. The weekend drill would be tank maneuvers on the northern ranges of the Army post.

 

Though I didn't know it, in less than 24 hours, my weekend would be turned upside down by the most traumatic experience I had ever known.

I reported for duty to 3rd Platoon. My platoon leader was Second Lieutenant Herrington, and Staff Sergeant Stevens, a Marine Corps Vietnam vet, was my platoon sergeant.

 

After formation and announcements I was told my assignment was to be the loader in Sergeant Stevens' tank. Since the weekend exercise was to be maneuver only, the loader would have nothing to do but ride, and that was okay by me. Besides, LT Herrington and SSGT Stevens knew I didn't know anything.

We stowed our gear in the bus undercarriage and after everyone boarded we headed to Fort Hood. Riding in buses was a lot better than bouncing in the back of a 5-ton truck under canvas, sitting on uncomfortably hard wooden benches.

 

I sat next to a Private First Class (PFC) I did not know. We engaged in light conversation. I learned my seat-mate was a Southern Methodist University (SMU) law student, which surprised me for some reason. At the time I guess I couldn't imagine a PFC to be an SMU law student. I was naive as well as ignorant of the realities of life.

We arrived at Fort Hood around 10:30 that Friday night. When the buses pulled up to the general area of our quarters, Lieutenant Herrington, who had arrived at Hood earlier that day, boarded the bus and guided the driver to where our billets were for the night.

We got off the buses and collected our belongings.

 

After formation, we settled into empty barracks in a remote area of Fort Hood among the thousands of acres of training ranges and tank trails. We dropped our duffle bags in front of canvas cots and began preparing for lights out. Before I could get settled there was a briefing called for officers and tank commanders. Though I was neither an officer nor a tank commander, my attendance was required.

The meeting was a review of the upcoming training: who, what, where, and how. For me, the briefing might as well have been in Chinese. The technical jargon, map references, and table of organization and equipment (TOE) were head-spinning. On the exterior I remained calm and engaged, but inside I was confused and apprehensive.

 

Turning in after the meeting I didn’t get much sleep. I hoped I wouldn't be called upon to recite and disseminate the details to subordinates or superiors. As an officer, one had to be on the ball at all times. And knowing the mission and being able to communicate effectively were part of being a leader of soldiers.

Saturday morning came early. I got up to wash to my face, brush my teeth, and shave. Looking in the mirror above the sink in the latrine I could see Lieutenant Herrington.  He was sitting on the throne taking his morning ‘duty’, smoking a cigarette. He was looking at my reflection in a way that seemed to suggest a preliminary evaluation of what kind of trooper I would make. Embarrassed, I turned around to meet his gaze for a brief second. That’s when I noticed he had jump wings (the parachute qualification badge) tattooed on his chest where the accoutrement would have been pinned on his uniform.

 

My anxiety was growing.

 

Could I prove myself capable in the eyes of this officer?

 

Time would tell.

Breakfast was served in a huge mess hall. The menu consisted of regular breakfast fare, which was tolerable but extremely greasy. After chow we fell-in for formation and listened to last minute instructions and assignments. Then we mounted our tanks that were lined up a short distance away.

 

The soldier assigned as the driver for Sergeant Stevens' tank was a Private, I believe. I don't think I ever knew his name. He showed me some of the prep work on the tank that needed to be done, such as checking the oil, checking track link connectors, making sure the radios worked, and other stuff.

 

Sergeant Stevens was elsewhere at this timeI liked SSGT Stevens from the start. He was short and corpulent, with a somewhat brusque manner. He knew his job and did it well. He took me under his wing and I was very grateful for his patience. He was a unique Guardsman in that he, being a Marine Corps Vietnam vet, had a Marine Corps Third Division patch on the right shoulder on his Army uniform, testament he had served in a combat assignment. B Company had, as I remember, four Vietnam veterans. At that time, the war had ended only six years prior.

Our tanks were the M60 Patton Main Battle Tank. The M60 had an air-cooled twin-turbo diesel engine with a M68 105mm main gun. The M60 hull was the same as the newer M60A1 Patton, but it still had the rounded turret like the older M48 Patton.
 I climbed up onto SSGT Stevens' tank. Standing on the engine deck of our tank I took in the scene of a beautiful Saturday morning. I can’t remember exactly, but there were something like ten tanks online abreast with tankers busily stowing gear and checking their vehicles.

The tank was a beast and one had to be careful at all times, I came to learn. To me there didn't seem to be anything on the tank that couldn't maim or kill you. Whether it was a hatch that could mash fingers, or a 105mm tank round that could accidentally detonate, the vehicle was a dangerous instrument of war.

With our tank ready, we waited for Sergeant Stevens. I climbed inside the turret and nervously looked around. The gun breech looked massive, the radios appeared complicated, and the space felt tight. I put on my CVC (Crewman Vehicle Communication) helmet and stood on the tank commander's seat. I gathered in the impressive picture of military armament. This felt more interesting, and more serious than ROTC.

 

In ROTC, one was always at the whim of senior cadets or cadre of officers and non-commissioned officers who took any opportunity to send one down for pushups. Pushups were more or less used as an instrument of hazing as well as for physical conditioning. I did seemingly thousands of pushups to a god known as the Great Airborne Ranger in the sky!

 

In B Company no one gave a shit about airborne Rangers or pushups, and that was a breath of fresh air to me.

Standing on the seat below the tank commander's cupola and keying the mic on the CVC helmet while using the standard radio protocols, I confidently spoke into the microphone, “(our vehicle call sign) …radio check, over”, and waited for a response.

 

To my surprise and amazement my radio check was acknowledged by the tank to my immediate right. I can still see the tank commander’s grin, his teeth in sharp contrast to his skin color.

 

This guy’s a cherry for sure; I'm sure the tank commander thought.

 

Tank Commanders, or TCs as they were referred to, were Officers and Non-Commissioned Officers. However, because B Company was never at full strength, it’s possible this tank commander was only a Specialist Fourth Class, or Spec 4. I regret I never knew his name. But I could tell he was experienced by his business like attitude and weathered fatigues.

 

The M60 tank had four crew stations: driver, loader, gunner, and the commander.

 

To become a tank driver, the entry level position on the tank, a soldier had to attend Armor Basic Training (BT) and Advanced Individual Training (AIT). A soldier had to be an experienced driver before becoming a loader, and a loader had to master his job before becoming a gunner, and so on. Besides the primary function, each crewman also had specific peripheral tasks to perform on the vehicle. I had none of this training but I was expected to learn, and learn fast.

 

Though I'd have nothing to do as a loader on this trip, several months later I would be assigned as a loader again during actual gunnery. The experience of being a part of a coordinated tank crew, designating a target, acquiring a target, slamming that 45 pound 105mm round in to the breech and yelling “UP!” into the mic, with the gunner responding “ON THE WAY”, and then feeling the tank rock upon the command “FIRE!”, and seeing that hot shell casing being ejected out of the breech at my feet, at night, was exhilarating!  The red interior lighting in the turret added a bit of visual intensity.

 

I found I was good at loading the main gun and our tank crew scored high because of the skill of the gunner, whose name I don't remember, and our experienced tank commander, Staff Sergeant Stevens.

Back in the moment, it was a clear and sunny October Saturday. We headed towards the maneuver range, the tanks in column formation. My anxiety had subsided somewhat and the excitement grew. This was my first ride in a tank. It was great fun. Rolling along a well-worn trail full of dips and bumps, the dust and exhaust rose into the morning sunshine.  I listened to idle banter mixed with business over the company radio net with my earphones, the engine turbines whining in the background. It almost made me feel like a real tanker. But in the back of my mind I was preparing myself for things to get serious. After all, I was there to learn and train, not just to be there for the ride.

We made our way to the designated maneuver range where we shut down and climbed off our tanks for a briefing.

 

The Company was divided up into two factions: defenders and aggressors.

 

As I remember the mission, defenders were to setup ambush positions and aggressors were to find and destroy the defenders first – or something like that.

 

My Platoon was designated as the aggressor, with LT Herrington in command. The other two platoons, who were defenders, mounted up and drove off.  They were to find cover and ambush positions among trees and bushes on the flat ground at the base of a plateau with densely wooded slopes two or three miles from our position. 

Then the words I'd been waiting for came from SSGT Stevens.

“Okay Hudson, you ready to drive?”

 

What could I say but, “Yes, Sergeant.”

I climbed inside the drivers hatch, put on the CVC and waited for instructions. The driver's compartment was surprisingly roomy, the small hatch belying the cavernous crew station inside.

 

Stevens, in the commander’s cupola, told me how to start the tank and how to shift into drive by pressing hard on the brake pedal to engage the clutch.

 

I had difficulty with the clutch. I was pressing as hard as I could on the pedal but I couldn't engage the clutch to shift into drive.

 

By this time the rest of the platoon was heading down the trail, getting farther away by the second. I started to grow concerned. I was really pressing hard on the brake pedal but I could not engage the damn clutch. My Vega had manual transmission so I was used to using a clutch, but a brake pedal and a clutch pedal in one was different. I thought I was pushing as hard as I could but I wasn't.

 

I said something like “it won’t engage.”

 

And Stevens' response was, “You gotta press hard!”

 

My reply was, “I AM pressing hard!”

 

He said, “No, you gotta press REAL hard!”

I was already sweating, and the column was getting farther and farther away. Finally, after applying what seemed like one hundred pounds of foot pressure on the brake pedal, the clutch engaged. I shifted to drive at low gear and rushed down the trail chasing the platoon. I finally caught up and maneuvered the tank into our position in the column.

 

On LT Herrington’s command, we executed a right flank and came to a stop online facing the flat ground and plateau where the good guys lay in wait. The steering was like a car, an enormous car with a large, round, steel, steering wheel. The tank felt massive but I was getting used to the vehicle's feel and began to enjoy the powerful thrill of driving a 50-ton monster.

Lieutenant Herrington gave the order, “Attack!”

Online abreast, we moved out. On the radio, I heard Lieutenant Herrington, in his best Russian accent, issue the command to destroy the imperialist dogs. I smiled at his sense of humor. As I looked to my right I could see the line of tanks as we charged. It seemed somewhat unreal. The sensation of rolling along on uneven terrain, seeing the dust and exhaust rise from the other tanks, and me behind the controls, keeping my tank in the proper spot in the formation, was an exhilarating experience I'll never forget.

The first obstacle I encountered was a dry stream bed that ran parallel to our formation. I slowed, came to the edge, let the tank roll down, accelerated to the opposite edge, gave a little more gas to get up the other side, then eased off the accelerator to let the tank rock forward. It seemed the logical way to drive a tank through a gully.

 

Sergeant Stevens said, "Good job."

 

We rumbled toward the slopes of the plateau. My confidence increased as we continued the simulated attack, rolling past prepared ambush positions of the opposing force. I think we were probably killed two or three times by cleverly camouflaged tanks hiding in the brush along and near the trail we used.

At the base of the densely wooded plateau slope we headed up a narrow trail. As I drove our tank along the path, I came to my next obstacle. Across the trail were three or four felled trees and numerous branches in a bunch to make a roadblock. In retrospect, I believe these bunched up trees was a crude warning to stay away from the top of this plateau for some reason. Over the intercom I excitedly asked what I should do.

“Keep going,” Sergeant Stevens said.

 

I accelerated and smashed my way through the obstacle. I hardly felt it, as a few felled trees and branches were no problem for a tank.

We made our way to the top of the rocky plateau, and that’s where the weekend turned sour.

We were nicely rolling along when I made a left turn of about 10 degrees. The steering suddenly felt strangely unresponsive. After a few seconds, Sergeant Stevens yelled for me to stop. Dejectedly, he told me to put her in park and shutdown the engine. I had no idea what the problem was. But clearly something was not right. We all climbed out and as we gathered on the left side of the tank we could see the left track had broken and was now grotesquely folded and kinked around the drive sprocket at the rear of the tank.

 

I felt terrible. I had broken our tank.

 

Sergeant Stevens was reassuring and said don’t worry about it, it happens. It was early afternoon and our day was done. We sat there all day while the rest of the Company continued training. We would need the expertise of a maintenance crew and a 52-ton M88 Hercules tank recovery vehicle to untangle the track.

About an hour before dark, Lieutenant Herrington made his way to our position to see what had happened.  The Company had rallied at the top of the plateau a half mile away. I remember the impressed smile on his face as he walked up and viewed the carnage of our knotted left track.

 

Standing on the sponson box on the left side of the tank beside the turret, I watched him approach, the setting sun to my back. I was expecting a rebuke for damaging government property and spoiling the training, which surely would have happened had we been ROTC cadets and Cadre. He only looked up, smiled a knowing smile and left to rejoin the rest of the company. He had things to do. I still remember the smile, the setting sun casting an orange glow on his face.

 

That was the last time I saw him.

Night fell with the three of us inside the turret listening to the company frequency and chatting as night maneuvers began. Suddenly there was an excited transmission. I do not recall the words, but it was apparent something bad happened. After a few moments listening to cryptic reports to Captain Wagner, the Company Commander, Sergeant Stevens told me to stay with the tank. He and the driver dismounted and walked to where the company had rallied to find out what was going on.

I was alone in the dark inside the turret intently listening to radio traffic as the drama continued. Eventually, I found switches on the roof of the turret to turn on lights. Having been in the dark for so long, white light seemed too bright, so I switched to red giving an eerie glow to the compartment.

 

The weather began to change. The wind was up, and it was getting cooler, adding to the spooky atmosphere.​ It began to rain, with high winds, thunder, and lightning. The rain became heavy and water began to pour inside the tank.

 

I managed to close the loader's hatch, but I couldn't get the tank commander’s hatch closed. Water poured in on the radios through that hatch; I had to get it closed.

 

In the downpour, I climbed up into the tank commander's cupola and pulled on the hatch, but it wouldn’t budge. I dropped back inside the turret and watched water continue to pour in.

 

I took off my CVC thinking if lightening struck the antenna it would travel through the radio to my head by way of the spaghetti cord linked to the CVC.

 

Then I heard Captain Wagner announce over the radio there was a tornado in the area, and that everyone should get inside their tanks and button-up. I had to try again to close the hatch or risk getting sucked out of the tank by a tornado.

 

I climbed back up and pulled and pulled but the hatch cover would not budge. In the dark, pelted by the rain, I felt around the base of the cupola's hatch searching for whatever was preventing me from closing it.

 

Finally, I discovered a thumb-like lever at the hinge of the hatch cover. Pulling on it, the hatch cover bounced on me. It was now unlocked. I felt frustrated and embarrassed for not knowing how to close a damn hatch.

 

I was soaking wet and cold. Our duffle bags with our field jackets were outside the tank in baskets around the turret, soaking wet also. I can't remember if I retrieved a field jacket from my duffle bag or not. If I did it was probably soaked, too.

The storm passed and the Company received an all clear over the radio. After some time waiting, and still alone, soaked, and shivering, I dismounted and walked about twenty yards in the mud towards the direction Sergeant Stevens had gone.

 

I waited, wondering what was going on. I could make out some activity and, eventually, I could see Sergeant Stevens, the driver, and two other soldiers walking toward me. When Sergeant Stevens got close, he told me, matter-of-factly, Lieutenant Herrington was dead.

 

I didn’t respond. I fell in with them as we headed back to the tank.

Sergeant Stevens explained to me what he had found out. A tank had slid down an embankment, hit a large boulder with its track and rolled over, killing the tank commander and LT Herrington, who was standing outside next to the turret.

 

Instead of watching where the tank was driving, the tank commander and LT Herrington had focused on what was called a range card and did not notice the tank was about to drive down a steep slope. The driver, a young and inexperienced soldier had been at the controls and was severely injured.

 

I was told the bodies of the tank commander and LT Herrington were crushed beyond recognition.

 

LT Herrington was identified by removing a boot sticking out from underneath the tank, which exposed his foot's white skin. The tank commander was the black Specialist who acknowledge my radio check that morning. He was somewhere underneath the overturned tank.

They were young and in the prime of their lives, and now they were dead. SSGT Stevens said a recovery effort would not be made until morning. He paused and let the words sink in, watching my reaction.​

 

I don't believe I made a comment. What could I say? The story was shocking and hard to digest at that moment.

By the time we decided to get some sleep it was very early Sunday morning. Inside the tank, the floor was wet from the rain. Our wet duffle bags, covered with poncho liners, were put on the floor as beds. It was now very crowded inside the turret.

 

The driver, one of the soldiers, and Sergeant Stevens lay on the duffle bags at the turret's base. Much to my displeasure, the fourth soldier, a Specialist and Vietnam vet, had taken the roomy drivers compartment as his sleeping area.

 

I don't know why he decided to sleep in my tank. He wasn't in our crew, but he was dry and comfy, and that was all that mattered to him. Since there was no more room I had to sleep sitting up on the tank commander's seat with my feet resting on the gunner's seat.

(An aside: A few months after the Fort Hood incident, I encountered this Vietnam vet again.  One afternoon at the Dallas armory, I was bored and trying to keep myself busy when I wandered into the motor pool where he and another soldier were hanging out.

We made small talk for a while, then the vet pulled out a marijuana cigarette and sparked it.

Now, I was a Sergeant and an officer-in-training. I out-ranked both he and his friend. I suppose he was testing me to see what I'd do — report him or join him. I didn't want to be a rat, but I didn't want to get busted for being high on duty.

I chose a third option, climbed inside a tank, and ignored both of them. The vet was a disciplinary action waiting to happen. I didn't need that hassle.)

 

I didn’t get any sleep that night, sitting there listening to Sergeant Stevens snore and thinking about what had happened to LT Herrington and the soldier. I looked down but couldn’t make out anyone. It was pitch black. With fingers spread and palm down, I reached out to identify who was directly below me, maybe I could find a space where I could be more comfortable. The first thing I touched was Sergeant Stevens' fleshy oval face, causing a loud, short snort.

 

There was a pause of a second or two, then with a low, menacing growl, I heard him say, “Hudson, you do that again and I’ll kill you.”

 

I had to stifle myself lest I burst out with a nervous cackle. It relieved some of the tension I was feeling. I still laugh about it.

Daybreak came. The morning was cold, muddy and gloomy. We made our way to the Company area for chow. I don’t recall eating anything.

 

Everyone seemed to have a preoccupied look on their face, as I’m sure I did. Another Platoon Sergeant, who was also a Vietnam Veteran, was talking about what had happened as a medical helicopter a half mile away took off, presumably with the bodies on board. The Platoon Sergeant had been there and seen the bodies when the tank was rolled off them. He looked sad and tense, slowly walking around the area with his cup of coffee.

 

Sunday, October 11th, was spent waiting. The afternoon warmed up and I could nap a little on the left front fender of my tank.

 

The sound of a huge vehicle crashing through the brush woke me. A 52-ton M88 and its maintenance crew had arrived to repair our tank. The process of pulling the tangled track off of the drive sprocket began.

 

Because of the mud it was difficult to pull on the track without moving the tank. The maintenance crew eventually got the track untangled and laid flat so we could roll the tank back on the track and link the two ends together.

 

 

 

 

​By mid afternoon the left track was back on the tank with only the two ends yet to be joined. Time was running out. We had to return the tank later that afternoon to the Fort Hood motor pool in the same condition it was issued.

 

One maintenance soldier, exhausted from working all night to right an overturned tank, slowly pumped a tank jack to join the two ends of the track. His energy was spent, and the task was proving difficult.

 

After several minutes, he stood up, looked at me, and with disgust said, “You give it a try, Sarg.” He placed a sarcastic emphasis on Sarg. He knew my stripes had not been earned. To him I was a privileged college-boy who wasn't a real sergeant.

 

I could see he was fed up and I wasn't at all mad for being put on the spot. About a half dozen people standing around watching him work. Now they were all looking at me.

Without skipping a beat, I made my way to the jack and started to pump furiously, releasing nervous energy. After all, it was my tank, and my fault. I felt it should be me making an effort to get this done.

 

After a dozen or so pumps, I heard a loud crack, and fell back.

 

The top part of the track end swung past, missing my head by inches. Hooks on one end of the jack had broken off due to strain on the tank jack. Everyone stared in disbelief.

 

After that, I was not allowed to touch anything else. The Executive Officer ordered me to the back of his jeep. I felt like I was being unnecessarily handled with care. I didn't want to quit working on the track.

Now it was very late in the afternoon. The Company was already aboard buses for the trip home waiting on the people involved in getting my tank fixed.

 

The maintenance crew had finally connected the track but had put it on backwards. That was what caused the difficulty in getting the track ends linked in the first place. But at the time, and probably because we were rushed, no one had noticed. Because it was so late, the maintenance crew couldn’t do anything about it, so the tank was returned to the motor pool with one track on backwards. The motor pool crew, full time soldiers, would have to complete the repair.

One of the first persons I saw when I got on the bus was the injured tank driver. Had he been on active duty, he would have been transported to the Fort Hood hospital. But because he was only a National Guard soldier he was simply bandaged by a medic and taken care of by his fellow guardsmen. He was semi-conscious and his face heavily bandaged around the forehead, nose, and chin.

 

The next person I saw was another of the Vietnam veterans sitting at the back of the bus. He was leaning forward with both elbows on the seat backs on both sides, as if to say to me "you're not sitting back here." A strangely scary grin on his face showed menacing white teeth. His posture and attitude reflected something akin to being amused at the trauma the previous nights events had caused some of us.

 

With the buses full, the trip back to Dallas was long and quiet. I remember stopping along the way for snacks or something.

We arrived at the armory, grabbed our gear from the bus, and made our way inside. I was exhausted. Waiting for us was the Senior Advisor to the Third Brigade, 49th Armored Division, my dad, a regular Army Lieutenant Colonel. After checking on various people he made his way to where Sergeant Stevens and I were standing.

 

The Advisor looked at Sergeant Stevens and asked, "How'd he do?"

“He’s a natural,” Sergeant Stevens replied, a knowing grin on his face.

Dad smiled, looked at me, and asked if I wanted to talk. I gave a seemingly disinterested shrug, the way a teenager would, and we walked out a nearby door.

 

Standing just outside the doorway, my back to the wall, he faced me and waited. I could no longer suppress the tension I was feeling and burst into tears. I felt shame and angrily wiped my eyes.

 

Just then, the young soldier who had climbed inside the over-turned tank to turn off the engine made his way quickly past us to his nearby motorcycle. He didn't say anything but the way he took off told me he was also traumatized.

 

The Advisor could do nothing but stand there and let me purge. After five or ten minutes I regained my composure and went inside. I felt weak for being emotionally compromised. Men, especially soldiers, didn't cry.

Driving my little piece of shit Vega with my still damp duffle bag full of gear, I went home.

The next week I didn't attend any classes, even skipping ROTC classes and lab. I was totally unmotivated. I asked myself if a career in the military was really for me. I knew I had to continue until my obligations were fulfilled, and that I did honorably.  But the seed of doubt had been planted during that weekend.

 

My dad told me to learn from the accident, but I couldn't get past the tragedy enough to be coldly objective. I kept seeing the faces of the Specialist and the Lieutenant. I kept thinking what if it had happened to me. I kept wondering what the last seconds of their lives must have been like. I was told that the Specialist, though torn in two, was alive for a brief time before he died — I couldn't get that out of my head.

I was shaken, and I had no one to talk to about what had happened. There were no grief counselors for anyone as far as I know. And apparently no one in the Corps of Cadets cared, not even the cadre. Their attitude was, as far as I could tell, that shit happens so get over it, it's part of the job.

 

And to a large extent that attitude was correct. But that wasn't the kind of person I was. I felt genuine sorrow for the two men who lost their lives, and I couldn't just shake it off and carry on. Plus, it made me think on my own mortality. I was not indestructible. That could have been my ass caught underneath a 50-ton tank, mashed flat.

 

I should have talk about it more with my dad, but either through youthful pride or youthful ignorance I never broached the subject until many years later. It never occurred to me to seek his counsel back then. He was an experienced combat soldier and his insight might have been helpful.

The National Guard today is an organization of experienced combat soldiers, young people who have served and are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their experiences are ten times more traumatic than anything I went through. I feel for them. They have memories that will stay with them the rest of their lives.

A long time has passed since that terrible weekend, and the rawness of my experience has long since worn off, however, a dull sadness sometimes overtakes me when I remember.

 

To this day I still think about it.

 

More so when an October storm rolls in making the night cool and wet.

Richard D Hudson

October 15, 2020

savage6alpha@gmail.com

M88 Hercules Tank Recovery Vehicle

M60 Patton Main Battle Tank

M60A1 Patton Main Battle Tank

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