Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Top-Notch Tanks in Nokesville

On Saturday Rob accompanied me to the open day of a tank museum in Nokesville, VA. I'd only just discovered this place which is only open once a year so didn't want to miss it. I hadn't ever been aware that there were tanks in this area so I was excited to find out more. To be quite honest, I wasn't expecting much, but tanks are tanks and musn't be missed. They have always fascinated me since childhood, those huge impenetrable bodies with the gun turrets swiveling round searching for a target. The thundering rumble that shakes the ground accompanied by a mechanical squealing as the huge metal tracks crush the earth beneath. I've watched Battle of the Bulge and any other tank movie plus visited the excellent Bovington Tank Museum in Dorset, England; these huge beasts terrify me yet draw me in.
We drove into the parking field then made our way to the entrance. My jaw must have dropped before we even got to the gate. I'd never seen so many tanks in a field before. But there were also people carrying vehicles, anti-tank vehicles, motorbikes, first aid vehicles, cavalry horses, and so many people dressed in military garb, I was rendered speechless. This was really impressive.
There was no entrance fee but donations were accepted so we willingly contributed. Nearly all of the vehicles on show are owned by Allan Cors, who's the President of the National Museum of Americans in Wartime, and was once also President of the NRA. His collection began in 1982 with the purchase of a WWII jeep. Other vehicles were acquired and then the first tank was in 1985, the 'tank farm' was created. He's collecting funds to build a permanent museum for all of these decommissioned tanks and military vehicles, over 100 of them. I'd heard from some folks that ground had been broken down near Quantico way but I only found information on an Army Museum down there, not this one. Currently these vehicles are kept in huge hangar style buildings on the property and they are obviously well maintained.
Inside a small hangar there was a huge model of the USS Missouri, used on Japanese attacks in WWII and which had a kamikaze pilot crash his plane into the ship, thankfully without causing too much damage. It wasn't until I'd taken a couple of photos that I realized this model was made entirely from Lego. On even closer inspection, I could see that whoever had built it had incorporated their sense of humor into the piece. Among the incredible detail, were little touches that I adored, above Superman appearing to push the ship while below him a rogue is being made to walk the plank.
Occupying an area on its own was a burnt out fire engine. This is the truck belonging to squad 252, one of 7 squads in the elite FDNY Special operations Command. All members gave their lives to rescue others on 9/11 and this vehicle is one of 4 that were recovered from the World Trade Center. Alongside it are pieces of steel, some of it flooring, also from the towers. It was hard to speak as we read the boards in front of the burned and bent engine, everyone that read them did so in respectful silence.
I didn't take as many notes as I should have this day due to my barely contained excitement, and so therefore, don't know the names of all the vehicles that I took photos of. It was such an incredible sight seeing so many tanks standing in the grass, guns pointing skywards, it seemed that at any moment they would all fire up together and start thundering towards a battle. The skin on my arms would often erupt into gooseflesh as I stood staring at these gargantuan hulking monsters, I was in complete awe.
There was a great line up of supply and medic trucks, most of which we were allowed to open doors of and clamber inside. I was quite taken with this Hummer, with one of these I could keep both of my bicycles in the back plus my kayak and still have room for a narrow mattress with a sleeping bag. But of course I might have a problem trying to park it...
Rob posing next to a couple of splendid British built tanks. The British and French both built the first tanks, used during the Battle of the Somme, and followed by Germany and then the rest of the world.
This Swedish tank, shaped like a big wedge, could hide by burrowing until only 24" would be visible above the ground.
A Panzer PZ 68/88.
We chatted with this brave veteran who first caught our eye with his artificial arm. In the hollow of his artificial elbow was a small plastic soldier with its rifle pointing outwards. He later told us that he had lost his arm to the tank he was standing next to. A shell was stuck in one of the barrels which he was trying to dislodge. A soldier inside, not knowing our soldier outside had his arm mostly stuffed down the muzzle, pressed the 'fire' button.
A British Centurian.
A couple of anti tank vehicles made an appearance with full crews while us general public swarmed about them so tight that they nearly flattened a couple of us as they tried to make their way through. There was commentary throughout the show, over speakers, explaining about all enactments and moving vehicles. I was impressed at how clear his voice came across wherever you were on site.
The M113 armored personnel carrier came out and rode a couple of laps to much applause, even when it conked out due to the vibration causing the battery cable to come loose. This one was the third M113 made, it would have 9 soldiers in the back. It has an aluminum hull and is still used in Israel where they call them Zeldas.
The M41 Walker Bulldog named after General Walton Walker who died in a jeep accident in Korea. Thisa was a great little tank that whipped around the circuit, dirt flying up in its wake. I took a little clip of it here. It sent shivers down my spine when that gun barrel pointed right at me, brilliant!
Then names were called out for folks who had been entered into a raffle to win a ride in the British Personnel Carrier FV-432. The first crew rode around the circuit, heads poking above the sides as they craned their necks to look about. and then the names were called for the second trip, with the announcer saying at the end that there were 2 spare tickets. I squealed like a piggie and ran towards her grinning hugely and she slapped a little red slip in my hand. What elation, I could hardly contain myself! We were told that we had to hang on tightly with both hands and steady ourselves as we hit the dips and trenches.
I climbed on board and managed to get right behind the driver, sticking my head and shoulders up through the opening while kneeling on the seat. He also told me to hang on well so I didn't knock out my front teeth on the port hole. That nearly put a stop to my inane grinning but I gripped fiercely with one hand, pushing myself against the metal rim and took just a couple of shots while we careered around the track. It was indeed very bouncy so I didn't bother with photos but concentrated on enjoying the ride.
There was also a reenactment featuring the 26th Cavalry Regiment, which was engaged in the last U.S.cavalry charge in 1942.
They played out a battle scene against the Japanese, supplemented with other soldiers, and even had a couple of Asian dudes dressed as the Japanese. After countless shots fired they rounded up and ran a last charge down past us baying public.
All over the fields there were areas with tents, camping displays, uniforms and people dressed so authentically that it felt we'd stepped back in time. There was so much equipment, tools and folks in uniform that it was so difficult to concentrate on one thing for very long, my attention was constantly being caught by something passing behind or alongside me, there was so much going on. Everyone was welcome to walk into the camps and inspect everything close up, to touch things and even pretend to have a go, such as Rob attempting to ride the bike or me sitting behind the guns.
Soldiers dressed in military uniforms from other countries were also present, and I did a double take when I saw the small group of German soldiers chatting next to their tank; it was a little unnerving.
When I spotted this people carrier, I tossed my camera to Rob asking him to take a shot while I pretended that I was about to be crushed by the huge tracks.
And this was as I got up, apparently my antics had been observed by a troop to the right which I hadn't even noticed, and they wanted to drop the ramp! Loved their expressions.
After a few hours we decided to leave and head back to Marshall for burgers and beer, but it was with a little reluctance and a promise to return the following year. If the museum is completed for the next open day, I somehow doubt that the atmosphere could be as fantastic as it had been today if most of the vehicles are undercover. Unless they bring them all outside, we shall have to wait and see. But this had to be the best day I've ever spent with tanks and military memorabilia. It had been a superbly organized event giving the impression that all stops had been pulled out for the ultimate experience.
On our way to the parking lot I spotted a soldier taking a cellphone photo of the scene in front of him and requested if I could take a photo of him taking a photo. He readily complied and afterwards told us that he was there with his WWII vehicle and that he'd also written a book, Last Chance by LTC David L. Stanley. This link shows the book and reviews. I bought it from Amazon.
Rob got this guy to stop by his jeep and on the count of three, puff out smoke from his cigar so I could take a photo. He also complied. Very easy-going crowd, these soldiers!
 We left the fields as the last reenactment played out behind us, a loud whoosh as a flamethrower blew out bright orange fire into the brush and soldiers' guns hammered in retaliation. This day had been incredible, I can't wait for next year!
An article on the 2013 Open Day.
And the website for the new museum.

No comments: