When it returned, it parked to one side of the bleachers and the tank commander sitting in his hatch atop the turret began blasting nearer targets with 1,000 rounds per minute from his electrically fired .50 inch machine gun. It was a frightening demonstration.
Later, we were taken to a firing range where a platoon of tanks were parked on the firing line. Five candidates at a time entered them, one to each tank and directed to sit in the gunner's seat. When my turn came, the tank commander gave me just five instructions: (1) He directed my attention to a switch labeled “Off,” “Main,” and “Coax.” He told me to switch it to “Coax” to fire the machine gun located alongside the main gun. (2) He told me to grip the yoke in front of me (it looked like an aircraft steering wheel shaped like a “U”). and turn it right and left which made the turret swing right and left. The turret turned relatively fast or slower depending upon how far you turned the yoke. (3) He told me to pull back on the yoke and push it forward, thus elevating and depressing the main gun and the machine gun alongside it. (4) He pointed out that the trigger was the button next to my right thumb on the yoke. (5) He had me place my eye to the gunner's sight directly in front of me.
As I looked down range through the sight, the tank commander warned me that a target was approaching from the right at 30 miles per hour and would travel to the left rising and falling with contours of the track it was riding on. “Fire!” he commanded.
The sight provided little peripheral vision and the target surprised me when it first appeared. I jerked the yoke too far to the left and quickly overshot it. A moment later I settled the sight on the target and began hitting it with .50 caliber bullets from the coaxial machine gun. I did better when the target reversed its direction. I kept the target in the center of the reticule smoothly elevating and depressing the gun with the motions of the target. In those brief seconds, I had mastered the thing and blew the target to shreds.
As I walked away from the tank, a thought occurred to me. Yes, I had done well with just a few minutes of hands on training. Imagine what could be done with a well-trained gunner operating it. I wasn't so hasty then to dismiss the tank. None of us were.
Later, as I studied Fidel Castro's revolution, I learned that, again, daring men with satchel charges and command detonated mines, neutralized Batista's tanks and armored cars. I couldn't help including the lessons that I learned in Infantry Officer Candidate School in my novel about the Cuban Revolution, Rebels on the Mountain.