Car horns beeped and residents cheered this morning as the M114 Armored Personnel Carrier (APC), more fondly called the “tank,” was brought back to Branford after the Connecticut National Guard from the Branford Armory in early August.
Yelling from her car window, one passerby said, “I didn’t know how much I missed it until it was gone!”
The tank should look similar to how Sparks remembered it but it is now restored to what it originally was when it was issued in 1962; a flat green color adorned with stars not the camouflage it was when it left town in August.
Master Sergeant Guy Bradstreet, Shop Supervisor of the Unit Training and Equipment Site (UTES) of East Lyme, led the restoration effort of the APC and commented as seven of his guys delicately maneuvered the craning of the 12,600-pound tank, “We took it from the 70s-era paint configuration and brought it to when it was first issued.” In stripping down the paint, Bradstreet said he was able to find the registration number for the tank as well (see photo).
The APC, Bradstreet noted, was originally built by General Motors, Cadillac division and had a 283 motor.
Bradstreet, who works on restoring 15 to 20 pieces of engineer equipment a year, said he was happy to see the vehicle returned to Branford. “We’re excited,” he commented, “that the people of Branford took an interest in the equipment and it’s good to see it come back and be a reflection of the history of the town.”
The initial intent of removing the tank, said CT National Guard Spokesman, Col. John Witford, was to restore the APC and display it at Camp Niantic.
The CT National Guard owns many pieces of equipment throughout the state that are housed at off-site facilities like the Armory in Branford. As the CT National Guard’s footprint is reduced at the Armory and relocated to Middletown – a similar story plays out at other armories in the state – Witford said the CT National Guard is taking their equipment with them. Two Howitizer cannons, formerly in Norwalk, were taken by the CT National Guard earlier this year. Most of these pieces will be displayed at Camp Niantic.
Though just a small platoon division of the CT National Guard will remain in Branford, Whitford said the ultimate decision was though it is still the guard’s property.
“After hearing the response and how the town felt about the APC,” said Whitford, “it would be better to return it and be the good neighbor.” Witford said Major General Thad Martin made the ultimate decision to return the tank.
As the UTES readied the area to replace the restored APC, many people instrumental in the vehicle’s return began to arrive at the Armory to watch the event unfold including Erik Barone who was at the scene the morning the tank was taken.
“I have goose bumps,” he said as the tank was flat bedded in.
Seeing the tank go was touching for Barone who said he had played on it as a child. The day it was taken, Barone said he was devastated thinking his toddler Chase could climb not on the vehicle like he had. Though it’s not encouraged that children climb on the tank, Bradstreet said the APC was restored with safe paint incase residents do touch it. Barone was all smiles as the UTES crew positioned the APC for it's final drop into place.
Also waiting for the APC to be brought home, was Branford resident Veteran Corporal Thomas Sudac of the Heavy Tank Company, 102nd Infantry Regiment, 43rd Infantry Division. Clad in blue baseball caps bearing the 102nd Infantry insignia, Sudac and several other veteran members of the division arrived to see the tank they in the first place more than 30 years ago.
As the story goes, Sudac worked with then Governor, Ella T. Grasso, to create a memorial to the 102nd Heavy Tank Infantry to commemorate their service. Sudac had requested a Sherman Tank, like the one the infantry had used in Germany in the 1950s and two of which, he said were housed at the Branford Armory in the 1950s. The government, instead, shipped a 1962 M114 Vietnam-era APC to the 102nd Infantry from Florida. Since 1978, that vehicle had sat in front of the Armory – except for when Branford resident Major Sergeant Walter Zielinski (who turns 90 tomorrow) said a few Branford teens unlocked the wheels and pushed the tank across the Armory lawn and more recently when the guard took it.
“We were concerned that it was removed without any notification,” said Sudac. “One day we came here and we noticed it was missing.”
Happy to see that the tank was back home, Sudac said he also has plans to secure memorabilia the 102nd had at the Armory in their designated room and later create a museum to display the items. A long-term goal is have the museum housed in the Armory, said Sudac, when the CT National Guard moves out.
Though unable to comment on that at this point, Whitford said in the future, when the guard moves out of the Armory completely, it will be given to the Office of Police Management who can then give the building to the town. Creating a museum would then become a town decision.
Just as the tank was being craned to its final resting place on its cement pad, which bears the inscription 1978, Rep. Lonnie Reed-D arrived with Branford Representative Town Meeting Moderator Dennis Flanigan who is also the past commander for American Legion Post 83 as well as Branford First Selectman Anthony “Unk” DaRos.
Reed said she was happy to see the APC was being returned. She said Sudac first informed her that it was taken from Branford. Though the tank is still technically the property of the CT National Guard, Reed said, referencing former Mayor Grasso’s work to get the tank in Branford, “It’s actually a war memorial with a granite marker.”
Calling on called Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to get the tank back, Reed said the first reaction from the people in his office was “yikes.”
“I’m very happy,” Reed said between chatting with other officials and veteran members of the 102nd Infantry. “I think it was a serendipitous experience because it reeducated people about how it got here and why they love it so.”
Please check back for a video.