Carl "Flash" Fleischmann's Truck

By JO1(SW) Spencer Webster
Staff Writer

The loud rumbling of the silver-colored Dodge Ram 2500 turned my head, but as the truck passed by me, the mural painted on the tailgate captured my attention. It was not so much the Vietnam Veteran theme of the images that caught my eye, but the loving care in which they had been painted. Curiosity took me over and I had to ask – what was the story behind the mural?
For Carl Fleischmann, former U. S. Marine, the story began in March of 1967 as he attended 13 weeks of Marine boot camp at Parris Island. Following boot camp, he traveled to Camp LeJeune,
North Carolina, where he attended basic Infantry Training Regiment (ITR), which taught him how to advance on hills and how to use various weapons.

After he graduated from ITR, he traveled to California to attend the Tracked Vehicle School at Camp Del Mar at Camp Pendleton. This is where he would learn his skills as a member of a tank crew of the M48A3 “Patton” tank, which motivated Fleischmann a lot.

“For a 17-year-old kid, it was very interesting because there was this 52 ton vehicle that he could shoot, drive and maintain,” he said. “I was very impressed with the tank. I remember driving on to a landing craft and having it be dropped off and driving it to the beach.”

Fleischmann felt a sense of pride and ownership during his tank training. “Kids, who before that, had only taken care of bicycles before that, were now entrusted with a tank. Once you got your own tank, it was a source of deeper pride; the taking care of it and keeping it in top-running condition,” he said.

Following completion of his tank training in mid 1967, Fleischmann attended 50-cal School and a linguistics and interrogation training at 29 Palms, prior to shipping over to Vietnam.
Fleischmann left his schooling a confident young man, but he discovered he was unprepared for the reality of Vietnam. “When we got to Da Nang, there was a rocket mortar attack on the airfield,” he said. “It was pretty interesting but I was a kid again because I’d seen dead and wounded soldiers and this scared me. It was sobering.”

He was taken, along with nine other people, to Phu Bai via helicopter, where he was assigned to the Third Tank Battalion, Third Marine Division, Headquarters and Service Company (H&S Co.) to re-supply manpower for the tanks. Fleischmann’s role in H&S Co. was to provide manpower, parts and supplies for the forward tank companies (A-C), which were used for convoys, various patrols and covering support for the infantry. The fast and furious nature of getting indoctrinated into war mode, where he received his weapons, protective gear and information about where he would sleep or where to go in case of attack, overwhelmed him.

“During a watch, I found myself looking past drums filled with dirt, sand bags, down a barrel of my weapon through the barb wire and claymore mine field to the country side,” he said. “This is real. We are not home and playing any more.”

In early 1968, the war presented an even starker view to Fleischmann, when he found himself in a convoy heading toward Hue (pronounced way) City. “Before we pulled out, it was quiet, which was unusual and eerie,” he said. “Then, when we got to Hue City, the Tet Offensive had started, where all the main cities of South Vietnam were attacked and overrun at the same time by the North Vietnamese Army (NVA). This was the first time I saw someone, a Marine, advancing with us, shot right in front of me and it changed me. I realized how fragile we are. When someone dies within 10 feet of you, and you hear it, it gives you a different perspective.”
However, Hue City was not done changing Fleischmann’s life. He found himself participating in house to house battles, something that had not been done since the days of World War II. During one of these battles, he, as the tank driver, noticed through a viewing hole an enemy soldier as he pointed a rocket propelled grenade launcher at his tank.

“Before he shot, I turned the wheel (and the tank) to reduce the impact of the grenade. The rocket hit, and the tank filled with smoke,” he said, “No one inside the tank with me got hurt, so I got the tank back to a safe area.” Fleischmann opened the tank commander’s turret and discovered that his commander, Cpl. Robert Hall had suffered mortal injuries.

“I took him back to the Military Assistance Compound, Vietnam (MACV) Company Headquarters for Hue City, trying to get medical assistance for him, but a corpsman came out and told me there was nothing they could do for him,” he said. “I held onto Robert, who was gurgling and basically drowning in his own blood as he held onto me with what was a death grip on my shoulder until he passed away.” Fleischmann took the death of his tank commander very hard, because every member of the tank crew was part of a close-knit team; they ate chow together, wrote letters together and talked of family life at home.

“To have someone die in your arms and not be able to do anything about it was brutal! I closed up and there was no one I could talk to, especially as it took us a month to get out of Hue City,” he said. “That was when I went hard – the enemy really became the enemy – it was personal. Nothing bothered me after that and no one could get close to me.” After he left Hue he was ordered to Quang Tri where he and the rest of his crew traveled their separate ways, because the loss had been too great and the memories too difficult, so they all asked for transfers.

As a result, Fleischmann joined a tank crew in C Co., commanded by Cpl. John Wear, where he participated in patrols that led to the demilitarized zone (DMZ), Con Thien (pronounced con-tea-en), Camp Carroll and Leatherneck Square. “He came to my crew as the gunner, which was inside the tank,” said Wear, “and being inside of the tank had an adverse effect on him because he could not see the enemy. We were in several a static positions after six months and he wanted to be on the ground, combating the enemy, up close and personal, so he asked for a transfer.”

At that time, Fleischmann was six foot tall and weighed 106 pounds, so he became a perfect candidate for being a tunnel rat, which gave him an increased ability to meet the enemy on his terms. “We got to go out on more patrols, day and night,” he said. “We were the first in the towns and villages and if we found a tunnel, I got to go inside first. I didn’t have the fear.”
A normal tour in Vietnam for Marines was 12 months but Fleischmann asked for and received a 6-month extension and by his 18th month, he’d been awarded three Purple Hearts, two for his action in Hue City and one at the Cua Viet River. He returned to Camp LeJeune and was given a choice of duty, and he chose duty closer to his home state of Connecticut at Quonset Point Naval Air Station in Rhode Island, where most often, he stood gate security as part of the Marine Barracks there. But shortly after that, in late 1969, he was medically discharged.
“I fought for five years to get back into the Marine Corps but I tried to adjust to civilian life,” he said. “I still wish I could have been able to get back in.”

He returned to Connecticut at Groton, where he continued to work for the U. S. government, but as submarine builder for Electric Boat, followed by a move to Keyport, Washington, where he built torpedoes. Along the way during his civilian life, he has suffered numerous illnesses that were attributed to his exposure to Agent Orange, most recently; he has recovered from prostrate cancer. For Fleischman, he may have left Vietnam, but in every aspect of his life, Vietnam never left him, especially the loss of his friend and tank commander, Cpl. Robert Hall. “Over a year ago, I bought a 2004 Dodge 2500 4X4 pickup truck and I wanted to do something special with it but I did not have an idea of how,” he said. “I told my family I wanted something done – to remember my buddy Marines; a memorial of some sort.”

His wife, Gail, son Carl and daughter Christa, got together over dinner one night and decided on an initial design, which had been penned out on a napkin, and showed it to Fleischmann, who liked it. The junior Carl Fleischmann took the design to an artist/painter acquaintance, Tony Crosta, who paints tailgates, motorcycles and bicycles in Port Orchard.

“I took their ideas and drew up a concept; took all the elements and drew an initial drawing,” said Crosta, “based on conversations about the whole story of the tank commander. I spent a day on research, looked at a model of the tank he was in and put my heart and soul and time into this project. Accuracy was important to me.” After Crosta completed the project, he presented it to Fleischmann.

“I cried like a baby. The design they came up with was exactly what I was looking for,” he said, “in fact, it exceeded my expectations.” The truck is no longer a truck to Fleischmann or his family, but has become a living memory of a long-dead but never forgotten friend.

“My family understands me and my experiences a little better because of the truck,” he said. “When I cry, they know why. To this day, I am afraid of losing people close to me. Robert will always be a part of my life and he will be in Heaven waiting for me. There are still things I cannot talk about with regard to Vietnam, but this truck has opened me up for Robert.”
The power of the mural on the tailgate of the truck has spread to other people, including the artist himself. “It gave me a new respect for what they (Vietnam Veterans) went through,” said Crosta. “I hadn’t known anyone who had been through that. It means a lot for me and I feel like I have impacted a lot of people. I knew I did my job. People stop and talk with me or leave notes on my windshield about taking photos of the truck,” said Fleischmann, “so I know it affects people. At my house, the Marine Corps Flag and the American Flag fly at the same time. I am proud to be an American and proud to be a Vet. I wouldn’t change a moment in my life, because it makes you who you are.”

Brian Nokell, Photographer, Naval Base Kitsap - Bangor, Visual Information