MEEKER | It is always an honor, privilege and joy to meet and interview military veterans, and 95-year-old World War II veteran Roy Light was no exception as he recounted his time in combat service support.
Born and raised on the north coast of California, where there is just “too much fog and rain,” according to Roy, he and his wife Lee came to Meeker in 2008. With it getting harder and harder “to make ends meet,” they decided they “just couldn’t afford to live there anymore.” So, Chrys Sackett, Lee’s oldest daughter, talked them into moving to Meeker. We’re glad she did.
Roy’s military service began in 1943. When he graduated from high school, he went to work in a shipyard as a machinist’s helper. Then one day in January he received a polite invitation from Uncle Sam to come join his club—more commonly known as a “draft notice.”
“Of course, during the war, when you took your physical, they looked in one ear and if they couldn’t see out the other one you were in,” he said.
He and four other young men who were drafted at the same time all went to the same outfit in Texas, an armored regiment, where Roy was assigned as one of six mechanics.
“Being a mechanic, we had to learn how to drive all the vehicles, so I got to drive a tank,” Roy said.
It’s amazing that some 75 years later, Roy vividly recalls so much, some incidents being humorous but others heartbreaking.
“I’ll never forget [the day when] three of us were in a [tank] convoy on a road that was next to a county road. Our road made a turn to cross the county road, but an overturned car had been left in the tank track. The first tank saw the car and drove around it, but he was kicking up so much dust that the second tank couldn’t see the car so he went right over it.” Thankfully, no one was in it!
Roy also told of going on maneuvers in Louisiana with a variant of the M4 Sherman tank, which had a Ford V-8, 500-horsepower gasoline engine that didn’t get very good mileage—four gallons to the mile.
“Our captain gave the order to start up the tanks to move out.” Roy said. “But when we started this one tank, the engine compartment caught on fire. We hit the fire extinguisher and put out the fire, but the captain got back on the phone and asked, ‘What’s the matter with that tank?’ The tank commander said, ‘We had a fire and used up our extinguisher,’ ‘Well, that’s all right,’ the captain said; ‘start it again.’ They hit the starter again, it blew up in flames again, and with no extinguisher left, there went $60,000.”
Tragedy struck during those maneuvers, however. One night during the heavy rains in December, January and February, two guys decided to get under a tank for shelter. But while they slept, the cold rain turned the ground into a sea of mud, the tank settled, and those men lost their lives.
After recounting the rest of his military service, some serious medical issues with months of recovery and his numerous jobs as a mechanic in civilian life through the decades, Roy made a statement at the very end of the interview that reflected not only his humility but what seemed to be a sense of inferiority in his “lowly” support role:
“I’m not too proud of my military service,” he said.
A common analogy is that the combat service support forces form the “tail” in the often-cited “tooth-to-tail” ratio. This term refers to the number of military personnel it takes to supply and support (the tail) each combat soldier (the tooth).
As one source states, however, that analogy is a poor one. A far better picture is that a field army is a living organism with the command structure being the brain, the combat units being the arms and legs, the combat support branches being the eyes, ears, and nervous system, and finally the combat service support forces as the heart and circulatory system that provides nourishment to the other elements (The Oxford Companion to American Military History, Oxford University Press, 2000).
Many thanks, therefore, go to all our veterans, including Roy Light and the other combat service support forces in our military. Without that “heart and circulatory system,” our military could not live.
By Doc Watson | Special to the Herald Times