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Historic World War I tank in Belle Vernon gets facelift

| Saturday, June 29, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Jonathan Baker of Belle Vernon paints part of the Sherman Tank Memorial In Monessen as part of his Eagle Scout project.

For several generations, since tanks were introduced on the battlefields of World War I, kids, especially boys, have played with them as they grew up. But Belle Vernon Area High School senior-to-be Jonathan Baker has gone one better, or perhaps 33 tons better.

For Baker's soon-to-be-completed Eagle Scout project, he has taken on a World War II era Sherman tank that, due to aging, exposure to decades of weather and vandalism, is in dire need of repair.

Situated on a concrete slab in the center of the World War II memorial in Monessen, a long-neglected Sherman tank is undergoing a long-awaited and much-needed facelift.

Exploring several possibilities for his project, “this one stood out,” Baker said, referring to turning the tank into an attraction instead of an eyesore. “I have five great-great uncles who were in World War II and, even though this is not the memorial dedicated to all Monessen residents who were veterans, this is a World War II memorial and I thought it would be a fitting tribute to them and everyone who fought in the war.”

With his plans in hand, Baker, a member of Scout Troop 1543 in Belle Vernon, attended a Monessen city council work session to present his proposal. One day later council gave Baker the go-ahead.

“Jonathan came to council and said he was looking at the tank for his Eagle Scout project,” Monessen City Administrator John Harhai said. “That tank has been here 50 years and, even though refurbishing was necessary, was not high on the list of the city's priorities. We liked what Jonathan had to say and we are working with him. He is repainting the entire tank and redoing the surrounding area, including shrubbery.

“This is the future of the United States,” Harhai added, referring to Baker and Scouts like him. “These are the children you want to work with, and I wish we had more young people who are willing to take on responsibilities such as Jonathan has. This is an excellent project, one which will obviously benefit our community. He came in with a solid plan and knows what he wants to accomplish.”

In presenting his plans, Baker fielded questions regarding the overall project, landscaping, and color he would paint the impressive tank, a decommissioned military vehicle. He located the original serial number through a military data base website and will replace military markings of the tank, including a white star on the front and numbers on the sides of the 19-feet-4-inches long, 8-feet-7-inches wide, 29-feet high, 450 horsepower weapon, armed with a 75 mm gun, two .30 caliber Browning machine guns, and one .50 caliber Browning machine gun and a crew of five.

More than 50,000 Sherman tanks, named in honor of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's subordinate, William Tecumseh Sherman, were produced between 1942 and 1945, and was the most commonly used American tank in World War II They were used in all combat theaters (National WWII Museum in New Orleans website). “Sherman tanks,” wrote Stephen E. Ambrose in “D-Day June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II,” were “the first vehicles on Omaha Beach (on D- Day).”

Baker has been involved with scouting since the second grade, joining with friends and following in the footsteps of his father, Jeff, who is Scoutmaster of Troop 1543.

Dennis Lynn, assistant Scoutmaster of Troop 1543, has known and worked with Baker for five years.

“Jonathan has a high energy level and a positive attitude,” Lynn noted. “He exhibits a lot of scouting spirit and is very motivated. He helps with younger Scouts and tries to keep their excitement levels up and keep them interested in their activities. He helps keep the Scouts focused on tasks at hand.”

Once Baker, who plays the clarinet in the Belle Vernon Area Symphonic Band and will be clarinet section leader in the Belle Vernon Area marching band, decided on his project, he reviewed some of his plans with Lynn.

“Everything went well,” Lynn added. “His ideas were organized; he had back-up plans and a very logical approach to what he is doing.”

To obtain necessary materials for the project, Baker contacted veterans' organizations in Monessen and surrounding communities, receiving primer and paint, which will cover any paint markings from vandals to restore the tank to its original green color. In addition to restoring the tank, Baker, along with members of his Scout troop, is rebuilding a stone wall and redoing landscaping at the memorial site.

“Everyone I contacted has been very supportive and positive about the project,” Baker said, noting that the project will be completed in time for the city's July 4 celebration.

However, Baker did not merely settle for refurbishing the tank and bringing it back to life.

“I've heard a lot about the Sherman tank and I researched it and discovered it obviously has an impressive history,” he added. “It's one thing to work on a project, but if you know something about the subject it adds a personal connection, and is more fun in the long run.”

Les Harvath is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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