“I can’t afford to put one of these trucks on my Visa Card!” – E4 Rick Guinn, Company A, 1st Battalion, 124th Infantry, 53rd Infantry Brigade
On a spectacularly brilliant February day in 1971, the Florida Army National Guard Company A in Hollywood, Florida was set to conduct field training west of their armory location. In fact it was set to be held several miles west of their armory located at the corner of Johnson Street and Dixie Highway in Hollywood, Florida.
The location of the field exercise at that time is now a beautiful Broward County Park known as C.B. Smith Park. However in 1971 it was, for the most part, wild Everglades’ swampland. If people today could only envision how primitive the area was at that time, they would have never placed a bet it could ever have been converted to its pristine setting today. It is located halfway between Taft and Johnson streets on Flamingo Road in Pembroke Pines, Florida.
First you have to understand that the Florida winters are a dry season where rainfall is scarce. That causes the usual low lying areas to slowly dry up in the Fall season after September soaks us to the gills. It causes a phenomenon not unlike peat moss in these swampy areas. The surface area is covered with a ‘wheat-like’ grass; the top soil becomes dry and crusty underneath; the underlayment stores water and becomes soft mud and slowly over the winter month becomes harder and harder until the next rain cycle.
What this means for wheeled vehicles of any size is big trouble if the wheels break through the top crust, they will sink to the rims with the frame of the truck resting firmly on the ground and the wheels slowly spinning round and round with no traction. That is why the smarter forestry guys and gals use tracked vehicles to control any fires in the area. Additionally if the exhaust systems on the wheeled vehicles come to rest against the ‘grassy’ wheat it immediately catches fire.
The plan was for an organized practice of the infantry company. A small ‘enemy’ force would take up position on the south side of the park and the ‘main’ part of the ‘friendly’ company would then conduct a frontal assault on the enemy position employing a partial flanking maneuver to surprise them and hopefully capture the practice position without loss.
Before the ‘assault’ began a 2 &1/2 ton army truck had been instructed to deliver some supplies for the exercise to both company locations. The driver was one Richard Guinn, a Specialist 4th Class in transportation accompanied by his Co-Driver, Robert Neely, also Spec4, neither of whom had the slightest idea about the condition of the soil beneath the truck. As they left the first supply drop they headed the shortest route between the two locations directly across the grassy field.
Both drivers heard a loud bang after about 200 yards and searched around for the source. Neely looked in the rearview mirror and to his horror saw the tie down ropes for the canvas truck top were on fire. He yelled to Guinn and the two bailed out of the truck to try to extinguish the flames. However as the truck rolled to a stop it began to break through the top crust and sink into the mud. At that very moment they both realized the loud sound was that of the truck backfiring and it had shot a large ball of flame out the exhaust stack and onto the grass. It was literally now a wildfire growing exponentially underneath the truck and the fuel tanks. Without thinking both men jumped back into the truck to start and move it as quick as they could.
You would think the motivation would have been life safety. However they both understood that if they lost the truck they might have to pay for it. As Guinn re-fired the truck and slammed it into low gear, he yelled out ‘I can’t afford to put one of these trucks on my Visa Card!’. After they were well secured in a safe area they both howled with laughter at their misplaced motivation.
The bad news was that before the day was over 3,000 acres had burned including ‘Carl’s Fish Camp’ on the south edge of the park. The good news was that 120 National Guardsmen helped three savvy forestry people, at their direction extinguish the flames as the sun set. For a fleeting moment I knew what it must be like to be trapped in a fire. I never want to experience that again. Have a safe and happy July 4th!
Alarm Association of Florida