William Campbell knows a lot about tanks. He has volunteered with museums on Fort Jackson and most recently the South Carolina National Guard Museum where he helped restore tracked vehicles. His volunteer work would bring him in close contact with the tanks outside the Basic Combat Training Museum on post.
It wasn’t until a chance encounter with a particular tank brought back a flood of memories to Campbell. A M41A1 tank looked familiar, Campbell said after he noticed the vehicle following Fort Jackson’s Memorial Day Ceremony at Centennial Park. The park is located directly across the street from museum.
The M41, christened the “Walker Bulldog” after Gen. Walton Walker, was a light tank used in reconnaissance missions, but never saw combat with U.S. forces.
The numbers painted on the light tank were eerily similar to ones on the vehicle Campbell worked on while a young Soldier in the 1950s. In fact, they were the exact same. Not only were they the same numbers, it was actually the same tank he served in – Vehicle 11, Headquarters, Services Company 208th Tank Battalion, in the 27th Armored Division of the New York National Guard.
It was “shock” for Campbell to see it he said. “I said no, it’s normally just any 41 they brought in and put and a number on it.” He went and checked with Henry Howe the BCT Museum curator “and he said, ‘no that’s on the paperwork when they brought the thing in here.’”
“I said this is my old beast in 1955,” Campbell said.
“I joined the National Guard in February 1955 and this tank Headquarters Service 11 I was assigned to in 1955,” Campbell said.
Howe said the museum acquires “our vehicle (macro artifacts) through the Tank and Automotive Command. On occasion, we can receive them through the Center of Military History. Normally, those are the older vehicles.” And with some of the artifacts paperwork backs up the lineage.
The M41 sits near a UH-1 helicopter that is painted like it was during its service in the Vietnam War.
“In the 20-years I have been with the museum, this is the second time someone has recognized a specific vehicle they have operated or flew,” Howe said. “The other time was the UH-1 Huey Helicopter.”
The last time Campbell remembered seeing the tank was when he drove it during an Armed Forces Day parade in downtown Syracuse, New York. He would see the vehicle for years cleaning it up and restoring it before the realization set in.
As he and some trainees cleaned it, he “never dreamed that was my old tank.”
Seeing the vehicle’s numbers brought a flood of fond memories, Campbell said.
“He was a very good tank,” he said. “He was loud. He was a gas hog and it was loud. You could hear it coming a mile away. But it was fast.”
For Howe helping people remember the past is a part of his mission he cherishes.
“I think an enduring role of any museum is to help people reminisce and recall events of their past,” he said. “In Bill's case, the M41 was able to connect with his early days in the Army, nearly 70 years ago.”