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Volunteers restore WWII-era tank in Kokomo park for 60 years

November 14, 2018

KOKOMO, Ind. (AP) — Since 1958, the World War II tank at Foster Park has been a Kokomo icon. But it hasn’t always been a particularly attractive one.

Over the decades, parts of the tank rusted and turned moldy. The paint chipped and faded. Inside were piles of trash and debris such as needles and shoes left over from the time before the lid was welded shut and people could still climb inside.

But over recent weeks, that’s all changed as the tank underwent a total renovation for the first time since it moved to the park 60 years ago.

Jerry Paul, president of the Howard County Veterans Memorial Corp., said his organization has spent the last three years garnering donations for the project. And this year, they finally raised the $20,000 needed to restore the tank.

“We knew it was in bad shape,” he said. “You could just drive by it and see. However, slowly but surely, we raised the money.”

The tank received a brand-new paint job after the old coat was sandblasted off. All the rusted or missing parts have been replaced with historically accurate pieces.

Paul said the tank looks better now than it did when it first moved to the park.

“It’s just gorgeous,” he said. “It turned out really, really well.”

That’s thanks mostly to Steve Golitko, who served nearly 15 years as a tank driver in the Army and is now a member of the Military Vehicle Preservation Association.

He said when he heard about the tank restoration project, he knew he had to help. After all, it was the Foster Park tank that inspired him in part to join the military.

Golitko, who now lives in Sweetser and works at Chrysler, said he grew up in Bunker Hill, but he remembers driving past the tank during family visits to Kokomo when he was a kid.

“My face was plastered against the window when I saw it,” he said. “I can honestly say that was part of the reason I became a tanker. It was an interest I had from an early age. So to have the chance to get out there and make it better was a real kick in the pants for me.”

And once he started digging into the project, there was no doubt the tank was in dire need of repair.

Golitko said missing bolts had left large holes on the top of the tank that had let rain and snow in for years. Once they got the lid back open and climbed inside, he was greeted by a mess of cobwebs, rust and trash.

As volunteers cleaned out the debris, Golitko started the work of tracking down as many historically authentic parts to replace all the ones that had rusted or been stolen.

“People could just crawl in and do what they wanted in that tank for the first 15 or 20 years it was at the park, and some things might have followed people home,” he said.

One of those things that went missing was the data plate that would have detailed when and where the tank was built, and allowed Golitko to track its military history.

Even so, he was able to determine the tank was an “Easy-Eight” Sherman likely built in mid-to-late-1945 in Gary. It probably never saw combat, since the rubber on the tracks is almost fully intact. If the tank did serve any military purpose, it would likely have been used in the National Guard.

That’s why Golitko and the team of volunteers decided to paint the tank a post-WWII, semi-gloss green like the tanks used by the National Guard at the time.

Golitko said he ended up tracking down the other missing parts from dealers and other members of the Military Vehicle Preservation Association. Those parts included an original antenna, headlights, taillights, tools and towing cable.

“Everything we put on was as close to the original as I could possibly find,” he said. “But there were some things we had to fudge on, because you couldn’t find the real stuff.”

Paul said even so, the tank is in the best shape it’s ever been since moving to the park. Now, he wants to install a new spotlight so people can see the tank at night and put up a new chain barrier around it.

“This tank didn’t look like this when they parked it there,” he said. “This is going beyond just painting it. We could have just done that, and it would have looked good. But we went to the extreme.”

Another point of pride for Paul is the fact the project was funded through private donations, many from veterans. He said that says a lot about the importance of the tank.

“I think veterans should take care of their own equipment,” Paul said. “It’s part of our DNA of who we are. When veterans get involved, and their hearts are in it, it means a lot to us. So I’m glad it was a veterans’ project.”

And, he said, that’s earned them the right to give the tank their own nickname: The Jackrabbit. Paul said every helicopter pilot or tank driver gives their equipment a name. When he was a pilot in Vietnam, Paul named his helicopter “Hair.”

Now, the Foster Park tank’s front gun has been painted with the name that celebrates the city’s automotive heritage.

“I thought it would be nice to name the tank for what we’re known for, and that’s automobiles,” Paul said. “So we called it the Jackrabbit.”

He said in the end, the project has not only cleaned up what some may have considered an eyesore in the park. It’s also preserved an important piece of both the military’s and city’s history.

“For me, I’m all about preserving who we are,” Paul said. ” . That wasn’t a priority for a lot of people, but we made it a priority.”

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Source: Kokomo Tribune

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Information from: Kokomo Tribune, http://www.ktonline.com

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