I was ten years old, and more excited than I can ever remember being. I was going to get a tank, a real live army tank. It had been sitting in front of the American Legion building in Ogden, Utah for years, and now they were going to just throw it away.
If I had ever given it any thought, I would have had to say that my best friend was my imagination. It was kind of like that Walter Mitty guy that I had read about in school. I never just went anywhere, a trip to the store on my bicycle or a ride on the bus was an adventure. My bike became a fighter plane, and occasionally a dive bomber. A bus was transformed into a troop transport filled with soldiers waiting to jump out into the sky over Germany.
My imagination was not my only friend; I had other friends that I hung around with. Sometimes we would get out our cap pistols and play a version of cowboys and Indians. Because nobody ever wanted to be an Indian, it was usually cowboys and outlaws. We had some real exciting shootouts. They weren't much fun though, nobody ever got killed. I would shoot an outlaw six times, and when I called out that he had to lie down because he was dead, he would reply that I had only "winged" him.
I was always bringing stuff home, things that I had "found" or were given to me. This might be an interesting piece of junk that some guy was happy to get rid of, or things that were being thrown out while cleaning his garage. One guy gave me a pair of deer antlers. Another gave me a rusted old lawn mower engine. I would proudly carry my treasures home where they would sit in the yard until my dad would decide to clean, then they went to the city dump.
I took a lot of ribbing from my brothers and sisters, especially from Pat, who was the oldest, and had an acid wit. One evening at dinner, she made the comment that I would probably grow up to be a junk man. "I can see the sign, Honest Carr's used Johns." My family, except for me, began laughing hysterically. I sat silent, knowing better than to respond. I was no match for her rapier wit, and although I should have been embarrassed, I could not help but thinking that was a great idea.
I would often ride my bike past the American Legion, and sometimes I would stop and go over and climb on that tank. I could never get inside; all the doors and windows had been welded shut. Then one night, some vandals had placed dynamite or something in the barrel of the tank, and blew the end off the barrel.
The only real damage was to the nerves of the neighbors who were rudely awakened by the explosion. A church across the street suffered minor damage from shrapnel from the exploding barrel and whatever else had been placed inside. Damage to the tank was limited to the barrel that was now about two feet shorter.
Several days later I rode by, and found the tank was missing. It had been moved to the parking lot behind the building. I went back, and found that the welds on the doors had been removed and now I could get inside.
I don't know how long I had been inside playing when some guy stuck his head inside and asked me what I was doing. Guiltily I replied, "Nothing". Then recovering, I commented that this was sure a neat old tank.
Seeing that he was not mad, and I was not in any trouble, I asked if it had been in a war. He got a kind of faraway look on his face; it was that kind of look a person gets when he is remembering something. "Yes" he replied, "it was in a war.
He then began to tell me how it was one of the first tanks to land in Normandy, and that it had battled across France, Belgium and into Berlin. The way he explained it, if it had not been for this tank, why we might not have even won the war. "Wow" was my reply. As we talked, I asked what they were going to do with it now, and he said that they were going to get rid of it. "Can I have it?" I asked. After a moments thought, he told me I could, but I would have to haul it away.
I could hardly wait to get home and tell dad. He drove a big truck for the company he worked for, and I just knew that he would be excited as I was.
Unfortunately, he wasn't. He laughed when I told him, and asked what I was going to do with it. I figured that we could park it by the side of the driveway in the front yard. I also suggested that Mr. Chase, a neighbor across the street who was a mechanic could fix it so it would run.
Although dad appeared sympathetic to my cause, he wasn't very helpful. He mentioned that his truck was not big enough to move the tank, and he didn't think I could afford to have it fixed. He suggested that I think it over, and we would talk about it again later.
In the days following, my interests quickly changed. With my eleventh birthday I was invited to join the Boy Scouts, and became involved with scouting activities. I no longer cared to play with my cap guns and toy pistols. My thoughts now were hiking and going camping.
Occasionally I still went by the American Legion and saw that old tank sitting in the back. Then one day I passed by and saw it was gone. I felt a sense of loss seeing it was gone, and although I knew that it had been taken to a junkyard, I consoled myself that it had really been given a good home.