Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Tanks for the Lift

             A few weeks ago I wrote about a road trip that Isaura and I made to the suburbs of San Antonio, Texas to the town of New Braunfels where we had our annual reunion of Overseas Brats – folks who at one time or another growing up as military kids attended a Department of Defense (DOD) school somewhere around the world. ( The article was entitled “Brats.” In particular, I wrote about Bobby Murphy and his exploits as a young teenager breaking into a WWII German bunker on a hill overlooking the Oslo (Norway) Fjord.

Another one of the “Brats” (Peggy Reitman) shared an experience she had during her Air Force dad’s tour of duty with MAAG (Military Assistance Advisory Group) in Tokyo, Japan. A MAAG “is a designation for American Military Advisors sent to other countries to assist in the training of conventional armed forces and facilitate military aid. Although numerous MAAG's operated around the world throughout the 1940s-1970's, the most famous MAAG's were those active in Southeast Asia before and during the Vietnam War.”

There was no American operational military base to speak of where Peggy and her folks were in Japan. They lived in the Grand Heights housing for military families located in Tokyo. It was fenced off from the Japanese civilian community, thus affording the American families a modicum of privacy and security. The housing area was overseen by Military Police with the aid of a Japanese security force.

Peggy was in high school in 1960 and had been dating Tom Elliott, also a student attending the DOD school. To Peggy’s delight, her very strict, conservative father actually approved of Tom. Tom’s father worked for Lockheed and had been in Japan for 15 years so Tom had picked up a functional use of the Japanese language.

One evening Tom showed up at Peggy’s house to take her for a ride in his father’s brand spanking new Mercedes Benz. They told her dad they were just going to go for a drive. Peggy said they were planning to park somewhere, something her father would not have tolerated. But he liked Tom, so off they drove in the Mercedes with the clear understanding that Peggy was to be home by 10:00 PM. Not 10:05. Not 10:01. Ten o’clock sharp.

Just outside the gate to housing Tom suggested they pull into a farmer’s field where they could . . . well, you know! This particular farmer was raising corn and the stalks were very tall. The car literally disappeared from view even though “you could have stood on the rear bumper and spit over the fence into the housing area,” as Peggy told me.

One rather telling detail that neither Tom nor Peggy considered was that this was monsoon season in Japan. Torrential rains are a regular occurrence during this time of year. The ground was saturated. The shiny new Mercedes sank over the hub caps with the bottom side of the car lying flat in the mud. Any romantic notions quickly evaporated as they tried to figure out what to do with their immobile chariot. Not quite sure what to do, Tom eventually climbed out and walked over to the gate. He spoke to one of the Japanese security guards, affectionately known as a “Papa San.” He explained their predicament, being sure to mention that this incident needed to be kept from Peggy’s dad – a colonel in the Air Force - who would be extremely upset. The Papa San said he’d help them, and then disappeared.

Well, Tom returned to the car which was still very much hidden in the corn field. Not knowing what manner of vehicle the Papa San would arrive with to extract the helpless car and the hapless couple, they simply sat and waited. Peggy was growing more concerned by the minute as the ten o’clock bewitching hour was creeping closer. All of a sudden, a loud rumbling noise grabbed their attention. They were then startled by a parting of the massive corn stalks, “like the parting of the Red Sea,” Peggy says. A single bright beam of light was aimed directly at them. A behemoth of a vehicle, a Sherman tank in fact, rumbled to a stop just in front of the car. Out from the turret sprang Papa San who grabbed a length of metal chain from the tank and secured the other end to the front bumper of the Mercedes. Peggy says when the tank started to pull the Mercedes free from the mud that the car popped out with a distinctive sucking sound. The time was now 9:40. Not wishing to push their luck any further, they made a hasty retreat back inside the gate.

Once at Peggy’s home they explained to her mom that they were back a bit early to clean some mud from the car. Her mom thought this was fine since they would be out in front of the house and it was still before Peggy’s curfew. Her dad had already gone to bed anyway.

Peggy assures me that her father never knew about this incident, nor did she ever tell him. Tom’s dad, on the other hand, was none too pleased with the treatment his new Mercedes received. However, even though the two families were close friends, Tom’s folks never said anything about this to Peggy’s dad.

But really . . . a Sherman tank?!

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