I was driving the twins to school this morning when Queen’s “We will rock you“ came on the radio. It was about 30 or 40 seconds into the song when I was just hit with a wave of grief and sadness. I held it together, but then I told the kids this story:
It was the late fall of 1990. A couple of days before Christmas we turned in our old M1IP tanks with their 105 mm cannons. The reason was that we were getting new ones, M1A1‘s. The main differences with the new tanks was that they had 120 mm smoothbore cannons and greatly improved chemical warfare protection systems. It was like an early Christmas present (the most expensive Christmas present ever!), and Chuck Griego, my sergeant and gunner,, was immediately very busy getting everything squared away.
We went to gunnery on Christmas Eve. For Griego, this was a competition… really it was for all of us. For me and the other loaders, it was about who could reload the cannon the fastest… that was a long time ago but my recollection is that the standard to beat was around 3 1/2 to 4 seconds. That’s fast when you’re taking a 40-ish pound tank round out of the ammo rack, flipping it over, and shoving it into the breach of the cannon, then getting out of the way so the gunner can fire. We were competing for which tanks completed the course the fastest and more importantly, with the most accurate shots.
Anyway, before we went down range, Griego wired up an old cassette recorder to our intercom. The radio was on my side of the turret, and so an added responsibility for me, in addition to maintaining the machine gun and loading the cannon, was to press play just when we were ready to go downrange. The playlist included Queen’s We Will Rock You and We are the Champions.
I don’t have anything profound to say about all this. It was (and still is) like that for my Dad. Random and usually unexpected things would happen and suddenly I’d feel this gulf of emptiness and grief and loss. My only regret about Griego is that for many years we’d lost touch and I didn’t know where he was or what was going on in his life. So I’m grateful we reconnected (just this year!) and especially grateful I got to visit him in the hospital a couple of months ago. It was already clear then that he would not recover from the cancer. It was a great visit anyway.
There’s something about the shared experience of war that makes people like your tank crew or squad or whatever become as close a family. Anyway, I miss him.