By Jeremy P. Amick who writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
For nearly five decades, an M4A3E8 Sherman tank sat abandoned in a field at Camp Crowder, Mo. — a World War II Army base that now serves as a training site for the Missouri National Guard. Exposed to the harsh elements, the once domineering piece of war machinery had become little more than a remnant of faded glory, covered with peeling paint and rust.
But through the dedicated efforts of local companies and organizations, the tank has been restored to its former magnificence and now provides insight into the history of World War II armor and a former battalion within the Missouri National Guard.
“The Sherman was brought to the Museum of Missouri Military History in Jefferson City, Mo., last year for restoration and display,” said Charles Machon, the museum’s director. “We wanted to use it for display and educational purposes but it was really in rough shape and in dire need of refurbishing.”
Nearly 50,000 Sherman tanks were produced during World War II (which included several variants) and “were used in all combat theaters — not only by the United States, but also by Great Britain, the Free French, China and even the Soviet Union,” according to the National World War II Museum in New Orleans.
As Machon explained, the engine and transmission were removed from the 33-ton tank prior to its abandonment by the Company B, 135th Tank Battalion—a former medium tank company of the Missouri National Guard that was once located in the Southwest Missouri community of Webb City.
Though it is uncertain when the tank was transported from its location in Webb City to nearby Camp Crowder, the 135th Tank Battalion eventually became part of the 203rd Engineer Battalion in the 1960s, at which time it may have been deemed as surplus property.
The M4A3E8 variant of the Sherman was a late-war model, said Machon, and gained a new level of recognition for the role it played in “Fury”—a 2014 film that chronicles the experiences of an American tank crew in the waning days of World War II in Nazi-controlled Germany.
“We’re not really sure if it saw any action during the Second World War,” said Machon. “But with its ties to the Missouri Guard, we brought it to the museum last year so that its lineage and background could be shared with the public,” he added.
When the deteriorated condition of the tank’s exterior was realized, members of the Missouri Society of Military History—a support organization of the museum—stepped in to identify volunteers who might be willing to use their talents and time in its restoration.
The olive drab paint that was prevalent on Sherman tanks and most other American military machinery during WWII was donated by the Sante Fe Chapter of the Military Vehicle Preservation Association, an organization whose purpose is the “restoration, preservation, public education and display of historic military transport …” as is noted in their bylaws.
Greg Rollins, a veteran of the U.S. Army and owner of Rollins Automotive, contacted Chris Russell at Xtreme Body & Paint in Jefferson City, who then volunteered his company’s time and facility to sandblast and apply the paint to the Sherman.
“They really did a wonderful job,” said Machon, when talking about the painting of the tank. “It really looks like a brand new piece of equipment and it is pleasing to note that there were so many people willing to help us with the project.”
The next step, Machon further noted, is to have the appropriate decals affixed to the tank to represent the markings, as they would have appeared during the World War II period, in addition to installing “fake” machine gun barrels for purposes of accurately reflecting the appearance of its secondary armament.
In closing, Machon affirmed that having such an iconic piece of World War II history on display will provide visitors to the museum with a brief glimpse into the state’s proud military legacy.
“The tank goes a long way in telling the story of the Missouri National Guard in the 1950s and the state and nation’s efforts to be prepared during the Cold War,” said Machon. “At the same time,” he added, “it can shed some light on the men who served on the Sherman tank crews during World War II.”
The tank is located in the museum’s outdoor display area and is situated in proximity of other historic military vehicles and aircraft such as a Lockheed C-130 Hercules, Bell AH-1 Cobra helicopter, McDonnell Douglas F-15 and an M901 ITV Tank Destroyer.
The Museum of Military History is located on the grounds of the Ike Skelton Training Site (Missouri National Guard Headquarters) at 2405 Logistics Road in Jefferson City. It is open Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and there is no cost to visit.