Sunday, February 12, 2017


In the late 1970s there were basically two types of tankers in the Army.  Oh, we had several different vehicles running around, but generally, tankers were divided into two classes.  European tankers and Far East tankers.  The European tankers served in Germany, and the Far East tankers served in Korea.  When I was a young shavetail platoon leader, fresh out of the Armor school, my platoon sergeant was a European tanker.  He had served most of his service, (after Vietnam) in Europe, with the big armored formations guarding the Fulda Gap.  He was a good sergeant, well schooled in all thing armor, and had returned to the US after his second three-year tour of Europe.

On the other side of the world, we had the Far East tankers.  Those guys generally served with the Second ID in Korea, They watched the DMZ up north, keeping the asian hordes at bay.  These guys were good tankers, but even at my young age, I quickly learned that they shared an outlook totally different than the European tankers.  Oh, the maintenance was the same, per the Army's technical manuals, but the difference in geography and the difference in tactical training led to differences in lots of areas.This inevitably led to friction, mostly good natured, but friction nonetheless.

My platoon sergeant was a European tanker, and the commander of my 23 tank was a Korean tanker.   We'll call him Gene. He had brought back a Korean wife from his last tour, and had been a platoon sergeant in the 2nd ID, but because he was an E6 and my platoon sergeant was an E7,  the rank structure was what it was.

Our main maneuver area at Knox was a place we called Area 5-North.  It was on the western side of the post.  Nowadays if you look at Google Maps, you can still see the scar on the land.  Run your map pointer west down Highway 60 until you find the Marathon station on the Tiptop road. Just to the east of that gas station, you'll see a tank maneuver both north and south of Highway 60.  That was Area 5-North, both beloved and hated of tankers in my generation.

Back in those days, before Hwy 60 was four-laned, it was a simple two lane road.  As soon as you crossed the cattle gap on the post boundary, you would come to a little building, the Rock Inn.  The Rock Inn was famous for its hamburgers, and it sold beer.  Not two-hundred yards from a major training site, it sold cold beer.

We spent a lot of time at 5-North, and oftentimes we'd spend the night.  Generally, we'd laager the tanks near the gate (that spot now appears to be a big parking lot) and do what maintenance we could do before the sun went down, the sure as God made little green apples, someone would hike up to the Rock Inn and bring back a case of beer.  Even in those days, it was strictly forbidden by regulation and order, but I never knew anyone keel-hauled for it.

Gene's wife made kimchi, a Korean vegetable dish made from cabbage and spices, fermented by burying it in holes in the hackyard.  My first exposure to kimchi came at Area 5-North.  Gene had sent his driver on the hike to get a six-pack, and his wife had sent several pints of kimchi in his crew bag.  I was invited to drink a beer and eat kimchi.

It was autumn of the year and the night promised to be cold.  Dirty, grimy, as only a tanker can be, we lay on the warm front slope of the 23 tank, ate kimchi, and drank a cold beer.  Kimchi is interesting, (think sauerkraut, heavily spiced with peppers). It was an interesting culinary experience.  Heavily peppered fermented cabbage, washed down with cheap beer.  It was a multi-cultural experience, an enchanted moment in an otherwise grimy existence.  Laying in the cool evening air, watching the sun go down over Kentucky, reeking of diesel fuel and hydraulic fluid, while eating kimchi and drinking one cold Rolling Rock beer.

Later, though, the payback was phenomenal.  The gas that kimchi generates is awesome to the point that my own gunner, Sergeant Rivera, wouldn't let me get in the turret for the remainder of the evening.  I had to sleep on the back deck of the tank.


mostly cajun said...

I was both types of tanker.

My first overseas haul was with 1/72d Armor, 2d ID, at Camp Rose, Korea. Spend seven months on the DMZ. We had M48A2C tanks and we trundled them all over the area. The '48 was at the end of its deployment on active duty (we were commissioning M60A1's when I left) and parts were hard to get, but we managed.

I spent 1974-77 with 4/69th Armor, 8th ID in Mainz, Germany. We road-marched to some areas, rail-headed to others, and we endured the ballet that was tank gunnery at Grafenwohr.

I still love me some bratwurst and schnitzel. And Kimchee.


Old NFO said...

Heh, try being 'trapped' in the Sonar Shack on a Korean Destroyer for three days... It took me a MONTH before I could smell anything again...

Counter Jockey said...

Heh. I went to OSUT at Knox as a Cav Scout. I can identify with Hwy 40 and Rolling Rock, which I drink to this day. Had to wind up at Camp Casey as a Infantry 2LT before I had kimchee.

Peripatetic Engineer said...

I loves me some good kimchee. And some good Korean BBQ.

Termite said...

Kimchi is the perfect "beer food". Spicy, salty, low in calories, high in fiber, loaded with pro-biotics. It's actually quite good for you. The taste is far better than the smell, when you open the jar.

But yes: later you do produce large quantities of garlic & sulfur scented farts........LOL

Javahead said...

About a decade back, I was in and out of Korea a lot (business, not military).

I was amazed at the number of German-style beer halls I saw. Providing quite credible German meat dishes and beer . . . served with kimchi rather than sauerkraut. A friend told me, with a straight face, that based on their favorite foods he thought that the Korean and German cultures were very similar.

I also learned that genuinely praising home-made kimchi that someone's mother (or aunt, or grandmother) had sent in (and asking for another helping) would nearly get you adopted.

But yes, it does have aftereffects.