Joe Archibald said he never liked to drive.
He was drafted to the U.S. Army in Sept. 1951 when he was 21 years old and was assigned to the 169th Infantry 43rd Division Tank Company that was stationed in West Germany.
His duty while serving overseas was something he never expected — driving tanks.
Now 90, the Manchester resident said he thought he was going to be activated directly to the 43rd Infantry Division upon deploying to Germany as a replacement to the same division, part of a National Guard division from Connecticut.
The 43rd Infantry Division was ordered into active service in Sept. 1950 after the start of the Korean War and moved to the Seventh Army, which occupied areas of France and Germany.
The Korean War, often referred to as “The Forgotten War,” was fought from June 25, 1950 to July 27, 1953 and it began when communist North Korea invaded South Korea. The United States came to South Korea’s aid, paralleling the North Korean invasion with Adolf Hitler’s aggression during World War II.
During the Korean War, the US maintained a strong presence in Europe to defend against aggression from the Soviet Union.
Archibald was part of that effort.
“I was waiting to be assigned and they were calling all these names and names and names,” Archibald said. “Finally, at about 7 p.m., my name was called and I wondered why it took so long if all the infantry guys were leaving. I was told I was more mechanically inclined than the others were and I thought, ‘Oh boy, a truck driver.’”
It was a truck all right — a 50-ton tank at that.
Archibald was told tanks would be his “home” for the duration of his service, but he had never been trained to drive them. He said he didn’t even know how to get in one at first.
“That was my new car,” Archibald said. “I never liked to drive and of course they give me that 50-ton tank. I hated it even more.”
Five soldiers operated one tank at a time — a driver, a bow gunner, a loader, a gunner, and a tank commander — and five tanks were assigned to about four platoons.
Archibald attended Kentucky’s Camp Breckenridge for basic training. The camp served as a prisoner of war camp for more than 3,000 German enlisted soldiers from 1943 to 1946, but opened for troop training during the Korean War.
Archibald said when his company first arrived in Germany, they were assigned to an elite barracks in Bad Tolz, located toward the southern end of the country. They moved north to Furth, a suburb of Nuremberg, and were stationed on a German fighter plane airfield that served as their headquarters.
Germany was utter chaos in the aftermath of World War II, Archibald said. Civilians were allowed to eat whatever was left behind by the service members and Archibald said he was brought to tears when he noticed a malnourished German girl, no more than 5 or 6 years old, waiting to receive food scraps.
“I thought, they’re getting that food and it’s probably like filet mignon to them,” Archibald said. "It really bothered me, so I went to the tank and got what I could find — some crackers, gum or candy — and I gave it to her. She was hesitant to take it, but she took it.
“The smile that covered her face, you couldn’t have made her any richer that day. I’ll never forget that and I’ve been against war ever since.”
Archibald’s company was assigned to patrol an area of the Czechoslovakia-Germany border to defend it from the Soviet Union, which had heavily supported North Korea during the war.
Carroll County Breaking News
“It was just a job, like an everyday job, and we knew we were expendable,” Archibald said. “They rotated a platoon of tanks each month up on the border with the Russians. We were on alert all the time when the sirens went off and we had designated spots we went to.”
Archibald never saw direct combat during his service and was discharged as a Private First Class in Sept. 1953. The Korean Armistice Agreement was signed to bring a complete halt to the conflict’s hostilities, but no peace treaty was ever signed between North and South Korea.
“I think it helped keep me on the right track in life,” Archibald said about being in the military. “Every young man should do a tour of duty for his country. It makes you a better man. It made me more of an outstanding person in life and it taught me a lot about right and wrong.”
Archibald graduated from Towson High School and married his high school sweetheart, Audrey, in 1951. Together, they had four children — Lucille, Joseph Jr., Kenneth, and Ralph. Kenneth died in 2007; Audrey died of pancreatic cancer in 1992 at 58 years old.
Archibald said Audrey wanted him to promise her that he would marry June, Audrey’s childhood best friend. Archibald and June were married in Nov. 1993 and reside in Manchester. Archibald worked for Baltimore Gas and Electric Company for 41 years prior to retiring in April 1992, and he has been aHampstead American Legion member since 1993.
These days, Archibald is happy sitting outside for hours at a time with nothing to look at, listening to nature. He has always enjoyed the outdoors, after all, and listening to the insects and animals reminds him of a small orchestra, as if one was playing all the time.
“It’s been a good life,” Archibald said. “I never expected to live this long and I thank the good Lord for it.”