Tank Topple

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It is the summer of 1941. The United States still has a few months of peace left, but these American soldiers have just achieved a triumph unique in military history—and its luster is only slightly dimmed by its not having taken place in time of war. John E. McDonough tells the story:

“My father, who is the treasurer of the 43rd Infantry Division Veterans Association, asked me to tell you about this picture. It was taken in Louisiana sometime during the 1941 war games. These are men of A Battery, 169th Field Artillery, 43rd Infantry Division. On this day they were told to hook up their guns and get in their trucks and move to another position. They drove on for some time without incident, but just as they were rounding a curve at the crest of a hill, an “enemy” tank appeared, heading their way. Just how an enemy got this far behind the lines or A Battery got this far forward is a question that probably will go unanswered for all time.

“Private Rocky DiNobile (from whom my father obtained this picture) was in the lead truck with the senior man present, one Sergeant Gauthier. The tank also was cresting the hill and most of it was sticking up in the air. Not wanting to be captured or ‘destroyed’ and not really knowing what else to do, Sergeant Gauthier yelled to Private DiNobile, ‘Rocky, hit that son of a bitch!’

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“So Rocky slammed the truck into gear and then into the tank and, much to the amazement of everyone, the tank flipped right over. The only damage to the truck was a bent bumper and a dented fender. For a moment everyone just stared in disbelief and then they all piled out of the trucks to get a better look.

“While this was going on, the tank commander popped out of the emergency hatch in the bottom of the tank (seemingly created with just this situation in mind) and went after the first man he saw from the lead truck, who happened to be Sergeant Gauthier. The sergeant, who was the biggest man in A Battery, defused the situation by pulling the tanker’s helmet down over his eyes.

“The tanker calmed down a bit, and at this point someone (no one remembers who) produced a camera and told everyone to jump on the tank for a picture. Rocky DiNobile is on the extreme left on top of the tank. Sergeant Gauthier is to his left in the tin hat. The tank commander is seen front and center posing with his conquerors, and if the look on his face is any indication, he is not in a very good mood. The man next to Sergeant Gauthier in the tank helmet is not part of the tank crew—he is an A Battery member who grabbed the helmet from the second head that came popping out of the tank and claimed it as the spoils of war.

“Once the picture was taken, everyone piled back into the trucks and left the tank crew to fend for itself. After all, these men had a war to fight.”

We thank John E. McDonough, his father John W., and Rocky DiNobile for the picture of this stirring incident.

We continue to ask our readers to send unusual and previously unpublished old photographs to Carla Davidson at American Heritage Publishing Co., 10 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10020. Please send a copy of any irreplaceable material, and do not mail glass negatives. AMERICAN HERITAGE will pay $50.00 for each one that is run.