Great Military Heroes of World War Two : Oddball the Tank Commander
The Americans had Patton, the British had Montgomery. The Soviets lauded General Zhukov. If you are so inclined you may admire Rommel or Yamamoto but nobody likes a loser.
But some of the greatest military heroes of World War Two were not the Field Marshalls, five-star generals or the admirals of the sea. They usually came from the rank and file of ordinary men and women who fought that momentous conflict that engulfed the planet.
Oddball the tank commander was one such man and he was his own man.
A man who burst out from the confines of tradition and standard military tactics. He was one of the first irregulars to break from the regimented ranks in the era of industrial warfare. There is no doubting his courage in the line of duty. Standing aloft on top of his Sherman tank he flaunted the German guns with impunity.
A cavalry man at heart he gave the time-honoured war cry of,
Or words to that effect. Whatever it was he said this roused his men on towards battle with the enemy.
Towards battle that is, if not actually engaging as such, since his men were holding a defensive rearguard action decided unilaterally after their Captain got his head blown-off. Chief engineer Moriarity had even adapted their tank to go faster in reverse so that "we can get out quicker than we came in" as Oddball put it. But their reluctance to get into trouble was about to change.
Judging by their head-wear and the Arabian music in their camp they were veterans of another famous campaign. Testified by the Afrika Korps hat and the Moroccan fez worn by a couple of his troops. Their chilled out approach maybe also suggested they picked up some exotic herbs on their African travels.
On top of that tank it was as if in Oddball's mind he was leading a troop of uniformed horsemen across the dusty plains of the 19th century Wild West. Except that he would more likely be smoking a peace-pipe with the natives, planting some feathers in his hair and dancing semi-naked around the camp-fire. This was no cowboy no matter how gun-totin and free-roaming he seemed.
Ride of the War-Wearies
However as a real dude of the 1960s he had music wherever he went and it was cowboy music. Not for he the thunderous strains of Wagner as beloved of General Kilgore in 'Apocalypse Now' as the helicopters reigned fire from above. No! Oddball loved a little Country and Western backed up by a syncopated beat from the business end of a 76 mm shell. That was at least one aspect of the US military that was ahead of its time. They went metric.
Sergeant Oddball also had that hippy drawl punctuating his sentences with colourful vocabulary such as "baby!", "dig it", and "yeah man!" as he floated languidly through the fire and flame of total war. In fact when we first encounter our protagonist he's enjoying some free love with an army groupie. You can't take life too seriously and there's always time for some R&R.
There was also always time for sitting out in the afternoon sun and sampling the fruits of the vine from the French locals. Plus eating cheese and catching some rays to while away those lazy days.
A magnetic and charismatic leader he was. Always optimistic and a believer in victory as an absolute certainty he truly inspired his men. "Have a little faith baby" he cajoled the naysayers in the face of stubborn pessimism.
And that kind of confident and reassuring leadership was needed when Kelly came calling. A secret mission was on offer that would change the course of the war. Perhaps not for Eisenhower but certainly for the rag-tag band they assembled to plunge behind enemy lines.
His immediate sidekick Moriarity, however, couldn't be easily mollified by "Will you knock it off with all them negative waves" as the mechanic complained endlessly about the danger in their special mission. But Oddball was a New Age traveller in touch with the sprititual.
"It's a mother beautiful bridge and it's gonna be there" he promised and true to his word the bridge was still standing. At least until the US Air Force flew past and blasted it..
Perhaps little wonder that a colleague asked "Listen kid! They haven't got you back in the nut ward again?" especially as Oddball was literally barking down the phone-line at him. He had a repertoire of canine impressions at his disposal.
Peace in the Kaftan
He was a man before his time, a Vietnam G.I. even before the Korean War broke out. His anachronistic style of centre-parted long hair and beatnik beard wouldn't have seemed out of place in a 60's newsreel. Whether jivin in a smoke-filled haze at Woodstock or hanging out with the peace marchers at the Washington Monument you knew he would fit in with the hip crowd.
But instead of threaded beads he had his dog-tags around his neck. No kaftan upon his shoulders either as he sported a leather flying jacket with matching hat. Exuding a sartorial nonchalance and strolling cool you could never picture him drilling on a parade ground in standard issue.
But warfare required the individualistic outlook of the mavericks with unconventional ideas and tactics for the warfare of the 1940s. Oddball was one of them. He was the last buccaneer of the Armored Division and a rock n' roll renegade.
He even introduced the psychedelically inspired idea of firing tins of paint at the Germans through the barrel of his gun. A splash of colour to alleviate the grim reality of war. He was ahead of Jackson Pollock on that score.
Laughing all the way to the bank
Certainly Kelly was the leader of the pack but without Oddball and his motley gang their mission would never have been accomplished. Of course that ignoble pursuit was to drive through the front-lines and plunder a huge pile of gold from a French bank.
But let that not tarnish our memory of the great man. War is hell. Besides the forward advance of Kelly's shock troops inspired Major General Colt to launch a US Army offensive which liberated the town as Kelly's men liberated the bank of 16 million dollars.
As Kelly said it was a "private enterprise operation" so who could quibble at Oddball and his men enjoying the proceeds of their labour and a healthy retirement package. No medals, no military honours for this unsung hero. But no matter as he just wanted the money.
He even got a "mother beautiful tank" from their new German partner in crime at the end of the mission. Such are the spoils of war for such a righteous dude.