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Posted on Mar 23, 2005 in Books and Movies

Where Heroes Trained – Book Review

By Steven McWilliams

Where Heroes Trained
Roger M. Baty and Eddie L. Maddox, Jr.
Fenestra Books, September 2004

I knew I had to go, so there was nothin’ else to do but do it.It was the first time I had been alone, the first time I left Cleveland.

-Joe Perrotti

I wanted to do something, so that’s what I did. . . . I was in the first group of 18 year olds to leave Cleveland.

-Gill Terry

I was scared to death. I didn’t know what I was getting into. I was called to be at the bus station to take the bus to Ft Lewis . . . [Washington].

-Vernon Tweit

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I wanted to go [in the army]. I wanted to go. . . . But anyway you know, they were very lonely nights for us over there.

-Gil Garcia

These few sentiments echo the differences of the many young men who made up the armed forces in general, and the 736th Medium Tank Battalion (Special). They came from different regions, different cultures, different socioeconomic groups. Their fathers worked in a diversity of jobs, some more than one, in order to try to feed, clothe and provide shelter for their families. However, these young men, many of them 18, 19, 20 years of age, overcame their differences and were forged by their officers and NCOs into a capable, cohesive and dedicated unit.

The so-called “Canal Defense Tank” (CDL) was intended to be used in night attacks against the Wehrmacht, a venue in which they were observed to be deficient. Mounting a 13 million candlepower arc light, with colored shutters, they were intended to blind the German soldiers, while infantry and standard tanks would advance in the 90-foot interval between the CDLs. So pervasive was the security, that initial plans were to deny liberty or furlough during the extent of their training. Though this was later relaxed, security was tight, and anyone violating the guidelines faced stern disciplinary action.

Messrs. Baty & Maddox have scored in both bringing these otherwise unknown (to me, at least) young soldiers to public notice, and illustrating the nature of their secret project and training; and the rigorous training they underwent to prepare them for their mission in the European Theater. Providing personal vignettes of several of these tankers in the first chapter illustrates their humanity, shows us the person inside the uniform. As well, the accounts of the tankers are presented exactly as they recounted them, without grammatical or spelling correction – this further brings out the youth, care-free nature, fear, uncertainty and other emotions of these young boys forced to become men and expecting to be sent to Europe and likely, to die.

The editors have performed a great service, not only to the men of the 736th and their families, but also to Americans hungering for tales of the men of the “Greatest Generation”. According to one report, America is losing approximately 1000 World War II veterans every day. For every one of these men who dies without recording his service for posterity, America loses a vital part of its history. In at least this instance, the gallant men of the 736th Medium Tank Battalion (Special) will be remembered for generations. Messrs. Baty and Maddox deserve our acclaim and gratitude for that.

(Author’s Note: Ironically, the CDL tanks were never used for their intended purpose, and the tankers of the 736th rode in to battle in standard tanks).

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