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The Professor

Walter Galbraith

©2023, Aaron Elson

    Walter Galbraith was a gunner in D Company of the 712th Tank Battalion. He told this story at the battalion’s 1993 reunion in Orlando, Fla.

    While we were in basic training, we had to learn how to drive a tank.

    We practiced on an old tank, and we had to shift into first, second, third, fourth gear, and by that time you’re looking this way and the tank is going that way. The only directions that the driver would have were that the tank commander would press him on the shoulder, right shoulder turn right, left shoulder turn left.

    We had to go through this obstacle course with these tanks, and so each of us took turns driving. I went through it, and then somebody else went through it. There were two great big trees with just enough room for a tank to go between them. So when you’re driving, they said, “Don’t stay in first all day,” which some guys would do. As soon as that tachometer went so many thousand rpms, you had to shift.

    The instructor’s sitting beside the bow gunner, and the driver’s going, and so he’d tell you to keep your eye on the tachometer.

    So my turn came and I went through the trees, and I’m looking through the periscope, it looks like the trees are moving. You’ve got that little spot to see through. I see these trees, and I hit the lever to turn a little and I go right between them.

    Then this fellow got in, and we called him the Professor, I can’t think of his name, but if you asked him a question, he’d say, “Well, uh,” it took him all day to answer. But anyway, it was his turn, so we get in the tank, and he’s driving, and the instructor said, “Keep your eye on the tachometer.”

    “Ow-kay.” He talked like Mortimer Snerd.

    We went down through the obstacles, and we finally come to those two trees. I saw one of the trees move in front, and I thought at the last second he’s gonna pull on the lever and go right between them. Then, “Bang!” He hit that goddamn tree, and ruined the tank’s transmission and everything, and all the tree’s branches came down on top of us, I landed on top of the bow gunner, the tank commander landed on top of the driver, and everything got quiet for a second. And the instructor said something like, “God damn you!”

    And he said, “Well, you told me to keep my eye on the tachometer, didn’t you?”

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Jim Cary

© 2023, Aaron Elson

     Captain Jim Cary was a company commander in the 712th Tank Battalion. He was wounded in Normandy, and again during the Battle of the Bulge.

    I had this picture, sort of a glamorous photo of my wife, Norma, in my duffel bag which was left behind when I was wounded.

    It was taken by a Louisville, Kentucky, studio — she’s from Louisville — and all it had on it was, “Love, Norma.”

    We didn’t know that there had been something special about this picture, but I came back and then I was wounded a second time up in the Bulge, and I was back in Madigan General Hospital and people started sending us clippings of a story that had appeared in the Louisville Courier-Journal.

    It said that here was this photograph of Norma. Then it said that this guy named Corporal Tornaire who was from Kentucky worked in a quartermaster corps and drove a truck in the 90th Infantry Division. He said he was sick and tired of hearing guys from Texas and Oklahoma, particularly from Texas, talk about how good-looking the Texas girls were, and he was going through my stuff after I was wounded to take out the government property and he came across this photograph. So he says, “Look, this is proof that Kentucky girls are better-looking than Texas girls.” It had the name of the Louisville studio on the back. So he took my damn photo, which he had no damn business to, put it in his truck, and started driving across France with it.

    So the truck gets bombed and he’s not hurt, and he decides that this photograph is a lucky talisman of some kind. The war ends, and he gets more and more curious, he wants to know who is this girl Norma from Louisville. He was from Louisville, too. So he sent the photo and a letter to the Courier-Journal in Louisville, and they traced the photo back to Norma’s family, and they wrote this story about this Corporal Tornaire. The article ended by saying he wanted to meet this girl, but alas she has a husband.

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