Post loses Tank Hill landmark
April 20, 2011
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- A 70-year-old Fort Jackson landmark was torn down last week, marking the end of an era and evoking memories of the countless Soldiers who trained and lived on Tank Hill.
The old water tank, which was painted with the image of Andrew Jackson and the installation's motto "Victory Starts Here," was torn down April 13 due to its decrepit condition.
"It was built to supply water for the whole fort," said Carlos Alexander, who was the water plant operator 20 years ago. "But it was made obsolete in 1991 when the existing tank was constructed. It was used for a few more years as backup, but it has fallen into a state of disrepair. Structurally it was beyond its lifespan."
The old water tank, which held 1.8 million gallons, was installed in March 1941 at a cost of $400,000. It was 90-feet high and 60-feet in diameter.
"The condition was pretty poor," said David Wiman, utility manager for Palmetto State Utility Services, the company that maintains utilities on the installation. "You could stick your head in, look up and it looked like a starry night."
The "Victory Starts Here" logo and image of Andrew Jackson was painted on the water tank in the 1990s. Before that, the tank was painted a plain beige. There has been a water tank in that location since World War I when the installation was known as Camp Jackson.
"When I used to work in the field on the tank, families of graduating Soldiers would stop by and take pictures," Alexander said. "A lot of the family members trained at Fort Jackson and stayed in the wooden World War II barracks that used to be lined up below the tank. These folks had a lot of fond memories of Tank Hill."
Most Soldiers who did their Basic Combat Training at Fort Jackson throughout the years remember Tank Hill most as a landmark that signaled the end of a long run up the installation's highest point.
"It was at the water tank after running up Tank Hill that I always hit a brick wall and felt like I couldn't run another yard," said Dan Robbins, who was assigned to Company E, 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment during the summer of 1986. "A major milestone was the agony passing and feeling like I could run for miles more."
But it was the wooden WWII barracks just below the water tank that Robbins remembers the most.
"Unlike the newer barracks, the charming two-story World War II barracks had no air conditioning. They only had exhaust fans," he said. "I remember sneaking a smoke by the exhaust fan by my bunk late at night."
The last of the World War II barracks were demolished around 2006 and replaced with portable barracks. The portable buildings will eventually be replaced by new barracks.
For Walter Lester, who completed BCT at Fort Jackson in 1969, Tank Hill was an ominous landmark that marked the end of a long day.
"If we had just marched out from a training area or the ranges, getting up Tank Hill was the last thing you accomplished," Lester said. "That was the worst thing you could do when you had to run up the hill. It was nothing but sand."
Metal from the old tank will be recycled and components of the tank, such as the ladder, will be reused.
"There is an array of feelings out there that a landmark is gone," Wiman said. "We are looking into painting a similar (Andrew Jackson and Victory Starts Here) on the existing water tank. It is something the Fort Jackson population would appreciate. ... "