A retired Sherman guarding a local park. (c) J.S. Reinitz

“You’re sure he was in the turret?” I asked my 9-year-old son.
He was telling me about a classmate who claimed he got inside the old Sherman M4A1 tank that guards the local park and pond from geese infestations (a losing battle, if the goose droppings are any indication). We had climbed on the tank before, but I knew the turret and driver hatches were welded (or rusted) shut. The door to the engine compartment in back was open, but it didn’t go anywhere. There was no access to the crew area from there.
Now the friend was telling him there was a way inside. I decided the only other way in would be through the escape hatch on the bottom. I had never dared to crawl underneath the behemoth before. We had to check it out.
Named after Gen. William Sherman, who ripped a path of destruction through the South during the Civil War, the Sherman tanks were thrust into the battlefields of World War II. They blasted Nazi Panther tanks in North Africa and Europe, and the allies hammered out about 50,000 of them into the 1950s when they were replaced by Pattons.
Our local Sherman (serial No. 68148) is a model M4A1, one of the few lines with a cast metal hull. It was built in 1950. according to the plaque, which means it didn’t see any WWII action. Watertown Arsenal is mentioned, but I don’t know if that’s where it was built or just refurbished. After it was decommissioned, it was relegated to the silent fleet vehicles, cannons, aircraft and other hardware placed in parks as monuments.
It was a short — and goose poop-free — crawl across the concrete pad to the escape hatch in the belly. The door had been removed.  Enough light was coming in through the vents, view ports and the hole for the missing front machine gun that flashlights weren’t necessary. Graffiti and fast food wrappers were testament to the fact that others had found their way in before we did. Small piles of gravel had accumulated below holes where people on the outside had dropped pebbles.
Two seats remained, although in bad shape. Assorted levers also survived, and one still opened a small turret window. Dirt and rubble aside, crawling around inside gave me a fell for what it would have been like inside a functional weapon. I have ridden in an armored personnel carrier before. But inside the Sherman I could imagine the claustrophobia of being crammed together with three others inside an iron can filled with explosive ammo. It must have been terrifying to be inside when it got bogged down and caught fire in the heat of battle. The APC, in contrast, had a direct path to a big exit door in the back.
It’s been years since I’ve wedged myself into caves on spelunking trips, and I’ve picked up some aches and pains since then. So after a bit of exploring the tank, I started the slow, deliberate process of working my way back to the escape hatch. I was just passing through the drivers area when my son called out from the turret.
“There’s a dead rat in here.”
“OK, don’t touch it. Leave it alone,” I responded. “Do you think it’s real?”
“It has fur, and I can see a tail,” came the response. He said it was in some sort of shelf.
I didn’t know what he was looking at, and I wasn’t excited about the prospect of dragging my own aching carcass back up for a look. So, I decided it was better to assume he was right, there was a deceased rodent festering away inside the tank.
“Just don’t touch it, and start heading out,” I continued. “We’ve been in here long enough anyway.”

It was time to put that escape hatch to good use.

For more photos of the tank, see our photo gallery.