By Ron Holland
This article offers readers a snapshot as to what it was like for soldiers to spend 12-months fighting the war from a tank. Infantry soldiers used to call both tanks and APC’s “Iron Coffins” and refer to those crews as “ballsy”. How else would you describe somebody who can sit patiently and watch an RPG tracking toward his armored horse – a hit, could disable his ride and, surely, injure some of the four crewmen inside. It’s worth a read.
Here is a bit of what it was like fighting in a tank in the Vietnam War. We crewed an M48A3 tank, 11th. Armored Cavalry Regiment. Here we go.
Our tank, Deadeye, was slowly approaching the tree line when we saw a shower of sparks dead ahead at twelve o’clock, then a smoke trail heading straight toward us. It sails past the turret. A miss. We knew that whoever fired the RPG would now be scurrying to a new area to load and fire again because we usually blasted the area that the smoke trail came from. These guys had to move quickly so their aim was not always on.
Damn Yankee our buddy tank traversed the turret to ten o’clock and our TC traversed ours to two o’clock and we instantly both fired canister. The trees shredded at impact. Both tanks fired again and our .50 Cals and 7.62s tore up a wide section of the tree line. The grunts moved in beside us as we crawled toward the tree line slow and menacingly. There were no more RPG rounds fired. In the tree line, far to the left, just where Damn Yankee had fired at two o’clock, two bodies were found, or what was left of them. A satchel of RPG rounds and an RPG were found.
Our guesswork paid off. The VC had fired, missed then ran to our left, his right where Damn Yankee blasted him with a canister.
“Good shooting Tex,” Maverick our TC radioed him when we found out.
“Should I blow the smoke out of our barrel?” KC, Damn Yankee’s TC joked.
In jungle warfare, you rarely see the enemy and for sure our canister and Beehive rounds had killed the enemy but we never saw them. I never really knew.
Maverick, who was using my driver’s seat to snooze on, heaved himself out of the driver’s hatch and climbed up to his cupola that I was in.
“I’ll take it Dutch,” he said. Maverick looked like crap. Swollen eyes, face blackened and greasy, fatigues filthy and ripped flack vest grey with sweat and grease. And he stunk to high heaven. We were all like that. You watch war movies and the soldiers in those movies do not look at all like real soldiers on the front line. I always laugh at that. Real combat soldiers look like dirty, grubby hoboes or homeless panhandlers, combat soldiers out on ops anyway.
I told him he still had ten minutes. He waved me out,” Catch some Zees man, you’ve got a bit of a drive tomorrow.” I climbed out and stretched my legs, they were cramping, bones making a cracking sound. I took a piss then climbed into my hatch and settled down.
An M 48A3 driver has a bit of room, his seat is the best place to sleep in the tank, the loaders the worst. There were gauge panels to your left, and ahead of where the compact steering wheel was. I checked the gear lever, neutral and checked that the brakes were set.
I dug around and found some c rats. I was kind of hungry. I went through the olive green tins. Beans and Weenies, no too late for such a heavy meal. Spaghetti and Meatballs, nope. Ah yes, pound cake, fruit salad, and crackers. I took my P38 (can opener) and opened the pound cake. Mmmm, always good. I opened the fruit salad and the crackers and had a feast washing it down with warm water, halazone flavored
Oddly enough my sisters sent me a tape of music and so did my girl. Lori and Tracy said it was a great song for soldiers far away that are missed by loved ones. They wrote,
“It’s a beautiful song but we can’t listen to it, it just makes us cry all the time thinking of you out there. We were sitting together in the rec room and it came on the radio. We both looked at each other and started bawling like babies holding each other. Oh God, we miss you. We got Daddy to put it on the tape for us.” My girl said it always made her think of me and she too would cry when it played.
It was a cover song by a Canadian band called The Sugar and Spice. Beautiful singing by the girls, melancholy, and every so often a martial trumpet which to me, really made the song. It got a hell of a lot of play at BLACKHORSE base camp bringing tears to a lot of homesick troopers.
I’m inviting you to listen to it. I’m dedicating it to my brothers who were over there with me. Fellow tankers, grunts, Marines, jet jockeys, brown water sailors, the Navy and those who supported us from the cooks to the mechanics to the QMs. Take a listen and think of them with me. This is the song that was going through my head late at night in my tanker’s driver seat with the faces of my loved ones smiling at me while I ate pound cake, fruit salad, and crackers.
And that was a part of what it was like to be an 18-year-old Tanker Boy (as my girl used to call me back then, now my wife) in combat and at rest in Vietnam.
This commentary was originally posted on the Quora website in response to the question posed in the title. Thank you, brother, for sharing what it was like to fight the war from a tank. Thank you for your sacrifice, service, and welcome home!
I was in the 11th ACR at Ft Meade and in RVN, with the 541st MID. Our means of transport was an M151. When we went to the field we were usually vehicle 99 or 100 in a 104 vehicle convoy, and the only “slick”.
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Ron, thanks for your very interesting story. Did 2 tours in Nam down in the Delta – never saw a tank either tour. I learned a lot about your tactics. I can’t imagine how hot it must have been inside one of those monsters. Must have been exciting hearing .50 cal. rounds bouncing off the tank. Years later I was a Cobra pilot and did 3 years in Germany in the 2nd ACR. We had the M-60’s. I have a lot of respect for you tread-heads. It’s not an easy job. Thanks again. I really enjoyed reading it. And welcome home.
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The 11th ACR was the best unit to support for our Dustoff crews. Never worried about taking much fire when landing or departing their areas thanks to their “mad minute” of laying down fire as we approached or departed. It was tough, though, when having to pick crews up after being struck by RPG’s or land mines. RPG’s in particular were brutal particularly when an APC was the target. The 11th was headquartered out of Blackhorse when I was there in ’67-’68 (III Corps)
You took me back 51 years, I was with the 1/11
B TP 69/70 Captain Starr was The Co.
I was a driver on ACav and I know what you are talking about, we lost a few tanks and crewmen with RPGs and land mines. I think about them all the time.
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I was with the 1st Bn ;77th Armor (Steel Tigers) 3rd Plt. I was in the Quantri area up north 68-69. Was attached to the 5th Mech. At times supported the 3rd Marine Div.
Very enlightening and the bravery of the menry commendable indeed ..
Thank You all for your service and sacrifices..
I found this very interesting. I was a grunt and only saw tanks once during my tour so knew nothing about what the war was like for tankers. Regarding the song that was mentioned, after some web searching I found two links that may interest the author.
The song was entitled “The Cruel War” by the Manitoba group Sugar and Spice; it was released in January 1969.
Here’s the link to the original song on YouTube —
Here’s a link describing the group and why the song disappeared after a very short release — http://www.canuckistanmusic.com/index.php?maid=533.
i was with 173rd in II corps binh dinh province. we worked with tankers fora few weeks. constantly had to halt movement due to tanks getting hung in jungle. felt very vunerable to enemy since they had no doubt where as the tanks were very noisy. what i did like was when it came to setting up NDP was having the tanks as part of the perimeter. when it got to sunset the tanks would do a ” mad minute” all around the perimeter to discourage any intrusion by enemy.
I understand todays tanks are much quieter.
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A good story. Never had ny contact with tankers. Had an uncle and two cousins who were tankers in Korea.
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Excellent. The 11th ACR used to do recon by fire when they were lagered up outside of Long Binh in 68/69 when I was on perimeter guard. The first time I saw it I thought we were under attack until another guy in my bunker explained was going on. The 11th ACR also came to our relief when the base was attacked on 23 Feb 69.
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I was with the 3/4 Cav, 25th INf Div and a tanker by MOS.
Did most of my time as infantry or recon.
Anyhow, one time, must’ve been Aug 68 or so near Tay Ninh had to bust track as we had a broken torsion bar and had to get that pair of road wheels out of there.
(to you civilians… the road wheel rides on the track and if the torsion bar is busted they will bounce like a basketball and you can THROW your whole track)
While doing this, a VC started sniping at us. Either he was the worlds most lousy shot, had a bad rifle, or was just screwing with us. He never hit us although a few rounds pinged off the turret.
We were all azzholes and elbows getting that job done.