Old tank ready for Veterans Day spin

Army Ordnance Museum gives visitors a glimpse into the history of warfare

November 09, 2008|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

With any luck, the engine will fire up and a driver will take a 3-ton World War I tank for a short spin to mark Veterans Day at Aberdeen Proving Ground on Tuesday.

One of only two surviving U.S. tanks of its era, the Model 1918 Ford more closely resembles an armored tractor. It will be overshadowed both in size and firepower by its 21st-century counterparts, known as Stryker combat vehicles, which will also be on display Tuesday at the U.S. Army Ordnance Museum.

Still, the one-man, one-gun tank can provide visitors insight into early 20th-century warfare, said museum director Joe Rainer.

The tank runs on twin Model T engines. It houses a seat for its driver, who also operated a 30-caliber machine gun.

Rainer hopes the tank will run in a straight line - avoiding turning movements that might break its tracks - on a grassy stretch for a few hundred yards. If the vehicle does not move, the operator should at least be able to rev up the engines, he said.

"We are lucky here that we have the experts who can work on this equipment," Rainer said. "We are hoping that it will be in running order, but it is a 90-year-old tank."

The celebration Tuesday also includes an exhibit of photographs, uniforms and other artifacts detailing the life of soldiers during World War I and showing off the role of the ordnance corps.

Each year, more than 17,000 Ordnance School students study the history of artillery in the museum's exhibits and archives. Officers take a pre-command course there, too, that includes a full day of ordnance history, Rainer said. His office also researches calls and e-mail inquiries.

While the museum's primary mission is to train soldiers on ordnance, it draws about 70,000 visitors annually, who must go through security at the post gate. Before the 2001 terrorist attacks, the museum typically saw more than 200,000 visitors a year.

"It is really a valuable resource," said Bob Cassilly, who recently was doing research at the facility for the Harford County Historical Society. "Some of the rarest artillery in the world is here."

For others, like Len Cullum of Middletown, Del., and his 9-year-old son, Chase, the museum makes for a great outing. The pair wandered through rows of tanks, reading the plaques that detailed the history of each.

"It's real interesting history, and it's fun," said Chase.

Jim Frederick, who will be transferring to APG from Fort Monmouth, N.J., as part of the nationwide military relocation known as BRAC, stopped at the museum during a recent visit to the post.

"I am really impressed," he said, while studying the evolution of helmets from World War I to today.

The Ordnance School will be moving to Fort Lee in Virginia as part of BRAC, and more than half of the museum collection will be going there, too.

"Unfortunately, we will be breaking up our collection, which right now is the fifth-largest in the world," Rainer said.

The 15,000-square-foot museum cannot accommodate the large guns and tanks indoors. Those must sit outside on the 25-acre site. Construction will begin in March 2010 on a 95,000-square-foot museum at Fort Lee, large enough to house "Anzio Annie," a German gun that U.S. troops captured during World War II. The Germans kept the powerful gun in a railroad tunnel to hide it from enemy planes and hauled it out on the train tracks to fire at troops 25 miles away.

It will be moved from its place at the entrance to the museum before the walls go up at the Fort Lee site and placed on concrete slab. Then, construction will proceed around it.

"This will be a great opportunity to build a museum from the ground up," Rainer said. "At Fort Lee, we will redo it all and have it more thematic."

The selection process - what to take and what to leave behind - will be difficult, he said. About 43 percent of the exhibits, including about 130 larger pieces, will remain at APG, much of it duplicates of what will go to Fort Lee.

"The move is the best for the collection," Rainer said. "We can maintain its integrity much better indoors."

if you go

The ceremony begins at 11 a.m. Tuesday at the Ordnance Museum. The modern military vehicles will remain on display from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Information: 410-278-3602.

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