Call it a mission of mercy. A very cold mission. Six New Jersey National Guardsmen got more than they bargained for when they volunteered to help move a 50-ton M-60 tank from the old Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5698 to its new home at Post 8867.
“It was really cold,” said Sgt. Wayne Woolley, a public affairs specialist for the Department of Veterans Affairs in Lawrenceville.
The National Guard volunteers to supervise moving old military tanks about six times a year, Woolley said.
“At one point we used to entirely move the tanks for them,” he said. “We don’t do that anymore. We don’t have the tanks anymore, because the New Jersey National Guard is now a light infantry. We have Humvees, stuff like that.”
The VFW post-to-post move should have been pretty straightforward: make sure the tank can move off whatever spot it’s in, pull it out of the spot, make sure it’s properly loaded onto a commercial flatbed truck, and deliver it safely, Woolley said.
“We find the safest place, then weld all the hatches shut to make sure people don’t get inside the tank,” he said.
Usually a tank slated to be moved has the engine and transmission removed before it is ready for transport
“Normally, although they still weigh about 50 tons, they move fairly easily,” Woolley said. “In this case there was a spot in the axle where there must have been a hole. It filled with water. It filled with a whole lot of water. Gallons and gallons and gallons of water. It was frozen solid. Each time they tried to pull it using heavy equipment, one corner sprocket on the right rear end of the tank wasn’t moving.”
The men decided to test to see if ice had accumulated inside.
“They used a blowtorch,” Woolley said. “Pretty quickly they needed to get a pan, then a tub to catch the water. As soon as they did that, it moved right away. It was far more of a challenge than they anticipated.”
Chris Ross, senior vice commander of VFW Post 8867, was grateful that the soldiers persevered. Ross had a small welcoming party waiting at the post for the National Guardsmen and the tank.
“This tank will stand in front of our post in honor of every veteran and every sacrifice they’ve made,” said Ross, a Marine Corps veteran of the first Persian Gulf War.
Post 8867 grew to about 800 members when Post 5698 closed three years ago due to declining membership.
The tank move represented more than five months of coordination between the VFW and the National Guard.
Why’d they make the move in January?
“We have a war going on,” Woolley said. “The guys who did this ended up having to go to Morrisville, Pennsylvania, to supervise the loading of some equipment going overseas. It was a day they had some availability. And the VFW guys were eager to get it to their new post.”
The M-1 tanks were produced between 1960 and 1975, he said.