By MAUREEN ROSE
Gold Standard Acting Editor
Wayne Walker traveled from Madison to visit Fort Knox, Ky., just so he could see a tank. With health issues threatening, Walker wasn’t sure how much time he had left, and he wanted to reconnect with his past as an armor tank crewman.
Walker served in the Army in the early 60s and learned to drive tanks at Fort Knox where he did basic training. Although he didn’t deploy to Vietnam, he was on orders for Cuba during the Bay of Pigs crisis, which was resolved before he had to report.
He enjoyed seeing Fort Knox and noted the current installation has changed quite a bit from the one he recalls. He said he was impressed with the way the Army has changed to better accommodate married Soldiers, explained Emmet Holley, the Garrison Command deputy, who provided Walker the tour. Walker remembers the Army’s earlier informal motto, “If we wanted you to have a wife, we would have issued you one.” In Walker’s day, little attention was paid to family members, with few programs for them.
Walker also thought the quarters for single Soldiers were a big improvement, providing far more privacy than the barracks he lived in with open bays.
“Fort Knox looks like a place where Soldiers have a safe and secure environment to raise their children in,” said the veteran. “It’s wonderful that Soldiers have homes that look similar to their civilian counterparts living off post.”
However, his favorite part of the day was seeing an M1A1 tank at the 4th Marine Division unit on Fort Knox. Walker enjoyed a lively exchange with Marine Capt. Christopher Rogers, commander of Company E, 4th Tank Battalion, 4th Marine Division, and a tanker himself. Walker had many questions about the tank’s functions, fuel and capabilities, comparing many of the answers to the tank he was most familiar with, the M60.
As the tankers swapped stories, discussion emerged about a slogan tankers use to tell another tanker that they want to ensure nothing is on the tank that shouldn’t be—as in enemy troops who may think they can climb aboard the hull of the tank when the hatch is closed and close-range visibility is limited. Walker said in his day, the tank crew would ask a trailing tank to “dust me off” meaning fire a non-lethal smoke canister that would knock any climbers off the forward tank while inflicting no damage to the 70-ton vehicle. Rogers grinned and said they still ask for a similar maneuver occasionally, but the current vernacular requests a fellow tanker to “scratch my back.”
Happy with his close encounter with the M1A1 and proud of his Army service, Walker patted the tank hull as if it was a horse.
“This is home,” he said, smiling. “I love tanks.”