The legend of the lost tank on the ‘S’ curve

M-75 armored personnel carrier as used during Exercise Sage Brush. Photo from the US Army Ft. Polk.

By Rickey Robertson

For years, as you traveled on U.S. Hwy. 171 northward towards Many, you traveled around the “S” Curve. The “S” Curve was located between Fisher and Many and you had to slow down to get through the “S” Curve. Those that did not slow down were quickly involved in a crash. As you went through the “S” Curve, you could readily see what us country folks call a “spring head” or “baygall”. Springs of water flow out of the hills all around the “S” Curve. But since DOTD changed the route of U.S. Hwy. 171 we no longer travel through the “S” Curve. The old roadway is used by the Louisiana DOTD to store ground up road materials and various types of road construction materials. This stretch of old highway is part of Sabine Parish history. Did you know that there is a legend that involves the “S” Curve? Yes, there is and we will discuss this legend but we have to go all the way back to EXERCISE SAGE BRUSH, the massive army maneuvers of the 1950’s to begin the story of the Lost Tank of the “S” Curve.

The “S” Curve as it looks today, looking southbound towards Fisher.
Photo from the Robertson Collection

EXERCISE SAGE BRUSH involved 140,000 various troops. 110,000 were US Army and 30,000 US Air Force personnel. It became the largest post-World War II maneuvers conducted in the United States. Major units included the 9th Field Army (Provisional) comprised of the 1st Armored Division, 3rd Infantry Division, and a new unit to be tested, the 77th Special Forces Group. This army had as air support the 366th and 405th Fighter Bomber Wing, 345th Light Bomber Group, 363rd TAC Recon Wing, 507th TAC Air Command Group and the 11th Tactical Missile Flight. The Aggressor Forces were comprised of the XVIII Airborne Corps, 4th Armored Division, 82nd Airborne Division, and the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment. Air support for the Aggressor Forces included the 312th Fighter Bomber Wing, 479th Fighter Day Wing, 461st Light Bomber Wing, 363rd TAC Recon Wing, and the 507th TAC Air Command Control Wings. The residents of the maneuver area here in Louisiana saw new equipment and tactics that had evolved from the previous maneuvers fourteen years earlier. Military convoys stretched for miles as they brought troops and equipment to Louisiana for EXERCISE SAGE BRUSH.

EXERCISE SAGE BRUSH ran from Oct. 31, 1955 until Dec. 15, 1955, longer than most army training maneuvers. Its mission was to train the various units in “atomic attacks” for both the US Army and the Aggressor Forces. The maneuvers began with a simulated atomic bomb set off at Fort Polk. Residents of especially Sabine and Vernon Parishes encountered giant 280mm atomic cannons capable of firing atomic artillery shells. The new US Army H-19 helicopters used to transport troops into combat areas also fascinated them. One of the units involved in EXERCISE SAGE BRUSH, the 1st Armored Division, known as “Old Ironsides” was the only up to date and fully operational armored unit in the United States Army at this time. The 1st Armored had recently prior to EXERCISE SAGE BRUSH been issued new M-48 Patton tanks and were also equipped with M-75 armored personnel carriers. The M-48 tanks replaced the World War II Sherman tanks and the M-75 personnel carriers had replaced the famous World War II half-tracks. Throughout the area, the armored units were constantly moving. Near Fisher was a large encampment of tanks and armored infantry units. Possibly one of these armored vehicles is involved in the legend of the Lost Tank.

Aggressor soldier in front of his tent near Peason during Exercise Sage Brush.
Photo from the Robertson Collection

I spoke with three people about the Legend of the Lost Tank. Ivan Ensinger was returning to Florien with one of his sons when the army stopped all traffic at the “S” Curve. There at the “S” Curve was a tank that was stuck and sinking in the baygall next to the road. Two large tank retrievers were parked across the road and were attempting to get the stuck vehicle out of the deep mud with heavy cables going to it. Ensinger knew about tanks, he came from Illinois and during World War II was assigned to the 7th Armored Division at Camp Polk. He went throughout Europe with the “Lucky Seventh” and came back and married a Peason girl named Molly Burleson. As Ensinger and his son watched, all of a sudden the tank broke through and the quicksand began to swirl around the tank. As it began to sink, a soldier broke and ran to the armored vehicle and took the machine gun off the turret. Quickly, the tank was gone from sight. Thanks to his son, Max Ensinger, for sharing this part of the legend. Freddie Hippler lived near Fisher and he remembered a very large camp of armored vehicles and armored infantry troops camped all around the “S” Curve and back towards Fisher. Vehicles and troops were everywhere! Hippler was on the bus going to school at Many when the Army stopped all traffic at the “S” Curve as they attempted to retrieve the stuck armored vehicle. Traffic both north and south was stopped and when the vehicle sank out of sight the roadway was opened back up. The last person I spoke with was Jeff Lewing. His father had knowledge of the old tank and even told Lewing he knew where it was. But he never got to show his son the location. Lewing also shared some information that when there was work being done on the “S” Curve many years ago, the road construction crew was able to observe part of the turret of the lost tank sticking out of the mud.

Convoys stretching for miles and miles brought troops and equipment to Louisiana for Exercise Sage Brush.
Photo from the Robertson Collection

It has been 62 years since EXERCISE SAGE BRUSH came roaring through Sabine Parish. I recently drove back to the old “S” Curve and did it bring back memories of traveling through that route. The old roadway still has the road markings on it and you almost expect to see a string of traffic approaching you. I got out and walked up and down the old roadway looking at the many springs and baygall’s located there. Cat tails grow tall from the water in the old ditches and the water is deep enough in some places I saw some good size minnows darting back and forth. The area is a thicket today and too thick to attempt to walk through and is filled with dangerous sink holes and slithering snakes. But somewhere in all this thicket and baygall lies the remains of the lost tank. Would it be an M-48 tank or an M-75 armored personnel carrier? My thinking is that the Army would have continued to recover an M-48 tank out but the M-75 armored personnel carrier would have been abandoned. After EXERCISE SAGE BRUSH was over the M-75’s were replaced with the M-59 armored personnel carriers. One drawback of the M-75 was its extreme weight and the machine gun was mounted on top of the vehicle on the commanders cupola. Would the soldier have retrieved the machine gun off an M-75? Many questions remain unanswered about the Lost Tank of the S Curve and some of my readers may even share more information on this event. Who knows? It may be an obscure armored vehicle brought by a unit to participate in the maneuvers. From my research, the Army shows no M-48 tank lost on its records, but there was lots of other equipment and vehicles unaccounted for. Someday, I hope that someone may find the Lost Tank of the “S” Curve. Just be safe and careful as you look. What about the lost jeep at Oak Hill… well, that’s another story, isn’t it?