April 16 2013
Dearest Old Bolds, Friends, and Family,
Today is the last day of our 17-day journey together as Charley
flies back to Hamburg, and I fly back to New Orleans, where my truck
is waiting for me.
Yesterday we had a long day on a sightseeing tour - something in my
many visits to this beautiful city I had never done. At the end of
our tour our guide drove us up to the top of the headland guarding
the entrance to the bay on the Sausalito side. From this point we
were looking back on the Golden Gate bridge from the outside, with
the city behind it. It was an incredible view in its own right, but
when I thought of how Bill Hardy would fly under the bridge during
the war on weather missions, I was even more impressed.
Sunday started for us with a breakfast that represents America in
several ways: chocolate chip pancakes. Charley couldn't imagine such
a concoction before ordering it, but soon had the proof of its
delectable appeal in the pudding..er..the pancake. Once we had
fueled up, we drove south into the bucolic hills in rural Silicon
There we had a private appointment at the Military Vehicle
(Pause for a moment of Reverential Silence)
The young historian in New Orleans had suggested we try for an
appointment here, even last minute, and we took his advice. We were
so glad we did.
Formerly a private collection of tanks and other sundry military
conveyances (I.e. Scud missile launchers), this collection of over
200 vehicles is now open for tours on Saturdays. Since we were
arriving too late to partake on Saturday, the kind people here set
up a private Sunday afternoon tour for us - with only 2 days'
When we arrived, we were treated as royalty.
Our guide ushered us into one of their four sunlight-filled,
immaculate, new barns, filled to bursting with tanks - the vast
majority of which are in running condition. Joining us were several
young people who reenact as WW2 Germans - the men as tankers, and a
lady as a .88 flak helper.
After passing the WWI tank, we came upon a Panzer IV (what Charley had
in Africa). Almost without waiting for a ladder, up he went for a
peek inside. Soon, he had the real MG34 in his grip and was showing
us how he shot at the Hurricanes who attacked his tank in Africa -
first using the turret as support and then firing from the hip. In
1943, the recoil had sent him backwards, and having a platform for
the best kind of research now, we were able to finally determine
what he had tripped over to land on his back in the desert. He had
continued shooting up at the Hurricanes from the side without much
effect, and was lucky no English pilot had pulled the trigger on his
machine gun, but instead had all focused on using their cannons at
the tank. We wonder why no English pilot did it - after all, Charley
was in the open firing a machine gun at them. Maybe they didn't
worry too much about him, or were more focused on the tank, or were
fighting the gentleman's war in Africa. Whatever the reason, I'm
just grateful he's still HERE.
From the Mark IV we had a splendid view of the Panther across from
it. This tank had been abandoned by its German crew when it came to
rest at the bottom of a Polish river. There it rotted for the next
60 years until it was rescued and purchased for the collection. It
took years to restore it to detailed perfection, inside and out.
As one of our guides quipped, it was so painstakingly restored, it
even still had that new tank smell.
A larger ladder was procured and up Charley went. I was almost
afraid to touch it myself - it was so perfect. But it didn't take
much to convince me. Plus, as a bonus, I was wearing pants today
(you'll remember that in the Sherman a few days ago in the WW2
museum in New Orleans I was in a skirt).
he dove in, and we watched, Charley started working the levers and
turning wheels. We soon found out that all of them worked as smooth
as silk, and those of us on top of the tank had to do some fancy
footwork to stay on top of it as the gun and turret rotated
laterally. But a fun time was had by all.
Charley was gently warned to be careful which knobs and levers he
tried, as EVERYTHING, including the fire suppression system, was in
full working order. Accidental depression would result in a soggy
crew (us) and fair amount of clean up.
nothing untoward happened as we all joined him inside the tank for a
full crew. Later, when I showed Charley the photo of the
Flakhilferin re-enactor, a beautiful blond descended from a Viennese
family, in the driver's seat with her headset on, and asked him if
he would have liked to have had her on his crew, he smiled his most
devilish smile. Charley was having the time of his life.
Onwards we went, up and into other tanks - English, German,
American. Now that Charley was in full stride, he eschewed ladders,
and clambered up on tanks himself, with no help. It was a point of
honor and pride for him. And he made it look easy. On the small
Panzer I he knew just where to place is feet going up and down, like
it had been only days since he had done it last.
On the larger tanks, including the British and Americans, he'd size
the tank up quickly and find his route to the turret. The Grant was
a tough one, but since this was the tank his friend Ken served on in
Africa, he found a way to make it work. On a few occasions, this
nimble, but somewhat hair raising monkey climbing around without a
ladder engendered some worried moments for me. After all, he is not
19 anymore, and just got a new hip some months ago.
But Charley would just look at my concerned expression and laugh,
saying "I live for adventure!" In any case, the few times I tried to
catch on his belt loop or jacket to have some hold on him while he
was on some precariously narrow edge 6 or 8 feet up, he just evaded
me. And I had myself to worry about, as my footing was anything but
sure on these beasts.
In the second barn I had a chance to lay my hands on a BR21/Nebelwerfer
rocket - maybe just like the one that might have shot Bob Sweatt's
B-24 down in 1944. They are massive, hefty things.
In the end, after touring the huge barns, and enjoying an exciting,
loud, and surprisingly smooth ride in a prototype of a new type of
HumVee, we could not possibly have been more impressed with the
museum, our guides, and the day.
We left in the late afternoon, making a beeline to a flower shop and
then to the national cemetery in San Bruno, where I laid flowers on
the graves of two crew members of another B-24 downed on Jan 7 1944.
Charley is sad to go home this morning, but in all honesty, I need
some sleep! In the face of his unending supply of wild energy and
ideas of what sort of trouble to get us into next, I yearn simply
for a place to lay down where no alarm, phone calls, emails, or
other invitations to adventure can reach me for several days. Or
With all my love from San Francisco,