It sat on the corner of small town USA in southwest Ohio as a majestic icon for half a century—a proud reminder of freedom and battles fought during past and current era wars. Kids loved to climb and play on the tranquil, green beast while parents captured those special Kodak moments. The tank’s backdrop for nearly 60 years was Ohio’s oldest armory, beautifully constructed in 1911.
Thousands of active and retired military who passed through the Armory’s doors fondly remember the presence and meaning of this memorial landmark.
The M4A3 Sherman tank stood as a landmark in the municipal seat of Preble County. Local residents and military veterans recall the tank being presented to its residents in 1957 during a ceremony with Mayor Moysey. The gift was to honor WWII veterans and those serving in the Korean War.
On April 18, 2012—without advance notice or opportunity for fanfare—the tank was hauled away by the Ohio National Guard. USAR Ret. Lt. Colonel John “JJ” Wikle was present. He reminisced about the day he stated he drove the Sherman Tank to the front of the Eaton Armory.
Sources advised the tank was taken to Columbus, Ohio, for demilitarization/refurbishing. Eaton’s shuttered Armory at the corner of Vine and Main Streets stood lonely and barren without the community’s beloved tank.
Tina Marker, native Eatonian, was disheartened by the news . . . so much so that she formed a social media group on Facebook “We Love Eaton’s Armory – Save it and the Tank!” Her goal was to garner community support for the Armory on the chopping block and return of the tank. At the same time, Ernie Root, Eatonian and veteran, was working to gather veteran support for these same causes through the Ohio National Guard’s 1487th Facebook page.
Tina and Ernie learned of each other’s efforts and decided to join forces on the We Love Eaton’s Armory – Save it and the Tank page. The group grew into a grassroots army of 3,000 concerned citizens and military veterans speaking up for the two causes. Voices spanned the nation with supporters coming from as far away as from Afghanistan, Germany, Brazil, and Singapore.
At this same time Tina Marker and Ernie Root teamed to found the community cause, Preble County Heritage.
Through the brainstorm of Gretel Johnston (JJ Wikle’s daughter), a large wooden tank was constructed and placed at the Armory in place of the real missing green machine. A kickoff rally was held Memorial Day 2012. The model tank and petitions were used to collect signatures in support of these two causes.
Preble County was not the only hub for public awareness. Disney/Hollywood producer and former Eatonian, Jonathan Flora, paired with Jamie Farr, aka Corporal Klinger of M*A*S*H, to create a call to action video. Joe Mantegna, Criminal Minds, reached out on Facebook to say “Give ’em back their tank!”
A volunteer committee was formed under Preble County Heritage. The group held strategy meetings every two weeks. From 2012 to 2014 these volunteers and others made a presence at every Preble County festival, fair, and community event to collect additional signatures and support. The large tank filled with so many signatures that a small tank was erected. It too became saturated with signatures.
In September 2014 the long awaited government process to move the Armory to auction status finally happened. A private citizen purchased the building. Sadly community support starting waning for the return of the tank. Under military equipment loan protocol, Preble County no longer had the option of its tank returning to this location.
Preble County Heritage was determined to raise enough military and government awareness to get the tank returned. Polls were taken on the Facebook group for possible new venues. Local veteran organizations were contacted for interest and support. Fort St. Clair, American Legion, and the VFW were top mentions.
Preble County Heritage submitted a preliminary application to TACOM in 2015 to request the tank be released. The landing spot details were still in the works. Months later they learned their application was denied. The red tape felt insurmountable. Feeling a huge sense of defeat, the project was set aside. Preble County Heritage members had to deal with other life priorities.
Although many thought this was the end, Tina Marker was not willing to accept this outcome. She was determined to find a way to bring our tank back to her home turf. Tina’s father worked on tanks on the Eaton Tank Line while serving in the Ohio National Guard and abroad during the Korean War. Furthermore, there were thousands of veterans in Preble County who still deserved to be honored for their service through the symbolism of our tank. Tina continued to work part time in the background to reach decision makers who were willing to listen. She fondly named the tank “Miss Preble.”
Fast forward to 2017 . . . through the assistance of an online relationship Tina developed with an Ohio National Guard retiree . . . the ears of key decision makers at the US Army TACOM Life Cycle Management Command were dialed in and listening. Then she was connected with their voices. Next she received the conditional approval she had sought for five years!
On June 19, 2017, Ernie Root and Tina Marker approached Eaton City Council to ascertain interest in accepting the military loan of the tank for placement at Fort St. Clair. The mayor, city manager, and council embraced the idea. Resolution 17-31 supporting Preble County Heritage was adopted that same evening.
Ground work has already begun at Fort St. Clair for Miss Preble’s new pad, lighting, flagpole, access drive and parking. The tank’s new home is at the front of the historic park, 135 Camden Road, Eaton.
Miss Preble will be reunited with her loving community on Saturday, September 23, 2017. Plans for a celebratory reception and parade are underway.
About the M4 Sherman Tank
The M-4 Sherman was the workhorse medium tank of the U.S. Army and Marine Corps during World War II. It fought in every theater of operation—North Africa, the Pacific and Europe.
The Sherman was renowned for its mechanical reliability, owing to its standardized parts and quality construction on the assembly line. It was roomy, easily repaired, easy to drive. It should have been the ideal tank. But the Sherman was also called a death trap.
Most tanks at the time ran on diesel, a safer and less flammable fuel than gasoline. The Sherman’s powerplant was a 400-horsepower gas engine that, combined with the ammo on board, could transform the tank into a Hellish inferno after taking a hit.
Although the Sherman packed decent firepower, its strength was in its numbers. It was one more example of the United States’ industrial prowess during World War II, a time where factory workers and factory output did as much to win the war for the Allies as the soldiers, sailors and airmen in battle.
Companies ranging from the Pullman Car Co. to Ford Motors cranked out nearly 50,000 Shermans, the second-most produced tank during the war. Only the Soviet Union outdid the U.S. in tank production at that time through manufacturing the legendary T-34.
In the Pacific, Marines deployed Shermans equipped with flamethrowers to destroy Japanese defensive positions. In the last months of the war when die-hard Japanese soldiers rarely surrendered, shelling pillboxes often didn’t stop the withering fire directed at American troops.
Despite its many weaknesses, the Sherman tank became a mainstay for both the U.S. military and armed forces around the world.
The Sherman tank remained in service with both the Army and the Marine Corps after World War II, and saw action throughout the Korean War. Even after the United States replaced the Sherman with the M48 Patton main battle tank during the 1950s, the Sherman served with U.S. allies until the 1970s. [Source: Realcleardefense.com]
About Fort St. Clair
Fort Saint Clair Park, established in 1792, is located at 135 Camden Road just west of downtown Eaton, Ohio.
Originally developed to protect the area’s early pioneers against the threat of Indian raids, it served as an important garrison and supply depot between Fort Washington and Fort Jefferson. Future President William Henry Harrison—serving in the Army at the time—helped erect the Fort.
On November 6, 1792, two hundred Indian warriors led by Little Turtle attacked 100 mounted Kentucky riflemen, who had camped outside the Fort. Six of those men died in the battle. Fort St. Clair was also a major supporting post in 1794, when General “Mad” Anthony Wayne finally defeated the Indians at the Battle of Fallen Timbers.
The official park area was established in 1923 to preserve and commemorate the old Fort. Fort St. Clair is home to the more than 200 year old Whispering Oak Tree. Fallen soldiers were buried under the tree. According to legend, you can hear the tree whisper under the right conditions.
Formerly a state-operated park, Fort St. Clair has been owned and managed by the City of Eaton since April 1, 1982. The park boasts 76.79 acres, large grassy areas, restroom facility, playground area, gazebo, cabins and shelter with picnic tables, outdoor fireplace, and charcoal grills. It is home to the “Whispering Christmas” holiday light display, which is fully possible through volunteer efforts. The popular winter fantasy is open annually from Thanksgiving to New Year’s.