News Column

Mock battles with model tanks raise awareness of Veterans Museum

June 8, 2014

By Sue Vorenberg, The Columbian, Vancouver, Wash.

June 08--Walking across the battlefield amid the whir of tank treads and churning engines, Pat Buczkowski spun his finger in the air and yelled to his two compatriots.

"Fire up the Tamiya," he told them, moving over to the command tent. "We're ready to go."

Buczkowski had a bit of a Godzilla city-destroying look as he stood over the one-sixteenth scale models of three tanks, two Pershing and one Russian, made from kits put out by Tamiya Corp.

So did his fellow tank-battlers Don MacDonald and Darryl Usher, part of the Estacada Armored Corp. model tank club, who were set up and rolling across a mock battlefield outside of the Veterans Museum on Saturday.

The tiny tanks and display were part of an effort to spread the word about the museum, which opened in 2011 at 1601 East Fourth Plain Blvd., Building 1918, on the Portland VA Medical Center campus in Vancouver.

Bill Hill, a volunteer who manages the museum, said he hopes to do many similar events at the site with remote control tanks, airplanes and watercraft over the summer.

When it comes to models, though, Tamiya tanks are about as authentic as you can get, he said.

The company actually goes out and records the sounds of real tanks and incorporates them into their model systems, Buczkowski added.

"The Russian KV-2, it sounds like it's missing a rod," Buczkowski said with a quick eyeroll and a nod. "Good ol' Russian manufacturing. It sounds like a real Russian tank."

Moving back to the tent and taking a seat, Buczkowski zipped his KV-2 behind a rock, then slowly inched it forward toward MacDonald and Usher's Pershings.

"Watch this, I got 'em lined up for a 'Quigley Down Under' shot," Buczkowski said, moving his tank into position to hit both with one shot.

Alas, it didn't pan out.

"Nope, only got one of 'em," he said with a short sigh.

It's not that these hobbyists are hoping to blow their friends' tanks into smithereens; they use radio signals to detect when a tank is "hit."

The display brought small handfuls of visitors to the Veterans Museum throughout the day Saturday.

The museum pays tribute to veterans from the Civil War through modern conflicts. Visitors can check out World War I-era gas masks, old uniforms, lists of Medal of Honor recipients in Oregon and Washington and -- of course -- lots of model vehicles built by volunteers.

"I'm trying to get publicity for the museum because a lot of folks don't know we're here," Hill said. "We want to be here for veterans and their families and also for the public to learn more about us."

Hill got into model building when he was very young, and it grew into a lifelong hobby.

"When I was 9 months old, I had spinal meningitis and pneumonia, so I couldn't go outside much as a kid," Hill said.

"I started building models instead, and I never really stopped."

Hill served as an Army clerk typist during the Vietnam era but wasn't sent overseas, he said.

Model building is something he really enjoys sharing with other veterans.

"In rehab, it can help them with their hands and dexterity," Hill said. "But sometimes, also it's just therapeutic. When you're working on them, you don't think of anything else. You're just absorbed in what you're doing."

Dave Pruett, who served in the Marines during the Vietnam War, said he's slowly picking up the hobby from Hill.

"I'm trying, although I don't have the patience he has," Pruett said while watching the model tanks blast at each other. "I'm excited about it though."

Pruett is working on a model 155 millimeter Howitzer, which is the gun he was on during the war.

"We called ours Gypsy II, so I want to paint that on (the model) in yellow" to honor the squad, Pruett said. "We were, excuse me, but we were bastards."

There were two guns in his group that used to go up and down a specific strip of highway in Vietnam. Gypsy I was smaller than Gypsy II.

"The 105 millimeter, it wouldn't get through the canopy, but ours, it would go right through trees," Pruett said proudly.

Eventually, he thinks, he'd like to expand to building other models and maybe join in the tank battles.

"I'm excited to get it going," Pruett said.

For more information on the museum, call 260-885-2757. For information on the Estacada Armored Corps model tank club, visit


(c)2014 The Columbian (Vancouver, Wash.)

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Source: Columbian (Vancouver, WA)

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