Charles Pollack recalls his deployment during the Korean War on June 5 at his Selma home. (Amanda Sowards / Montgomery Advertiser)
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MONTGOMERY, ALA. — Charles Pollack Sr. was in a tank outfit in the Alabama National Guard when his unit was mobilized in 1950, but no one in the company had ever seen a tank.
In high school he joined the 31st Infantry Division, the famed Dixie Division, so named because most of its members were from Alabama and Mississippi. There, he was assigned to the 200th Tank Company. When the Guard unit was mobilized, the company was assigned to the 25th Infantry Division, 89th Tank Battalion.
“We were a tank unit, but we never saw a tank until we got to Ft. Jackson (S.C.) for training,” he said with a laugh. There, the unit was given its M-4 Sherman tanks, retreads from World War II. “When we got to Korea, we were a replacement company. We went all over the country, wherever we were needed.”
He was in Korea for nine months from 1951 until 1952. He and other veterans are marking the 63rd anniversary of North Korea’s invasion of South Korea.
The tanks went on patrol with infantry units to act as support. Other times they were in defensive positions, using the Sherman’s 76mm main gun as artillery, firing into enemy positions. He faced North Korean and Chinese soldiers, though he never had tank-to-tank action with the enemy.
“We were thankful for that,” he said. “The snipers and mortars were bad enough. When they would mortar our position, the shrapnel would bounce off the tanks. It sounded like somebody was beating the tank with a ball-peen hammer.”
He became platoon sergeant of C Company, replacing the sergeant who was killed by a sniper. The tanks in the platoon were all named after American cities beginning with the letter C.
“My service in Korea played a big role in making me who I am today,” he said. “Being 21 and being responsible for 5 tanks and 25 men. Just imagine how that would mature you.
“My tank was named ‘Charleston’; I had to stick with a Southern name;” he said. “I have a picture of my tank on the 38th parallel, with the gun right on the line.”
Pollack became a Southerner by chance, almost by Providence. Born in Horn, Austria, his father died unexpectedly in 1935. In 1939, the then 9-year-old and his mother, Rose, and sister, Earnestine, immigrated to the United States after the annexation of Austria in 1938 by Nazi Germany. Thankfully, the Pollacks had relatives in Selma, who kept tabs on the family and helped them leave Austria.
The family became Americans in 1944, when Rose Pollack became naturalized.
“When we came over, my mother spoke broken English, and I spoke none at all,” he said. “I learned very quickly from my friends in school. People are very surprised that I don’t have an accent. My mother was adamant that we only spoke English, even when we were alone in our home. She studied very hard to become a citizen. She probably knew more about the Constitution than most natural-born Americans.
“I thank the Lord every day for the blessings he has given me in my life. I have been very fortunate to live in such a country as America.”
Selma became his adopted hometown, and he returned after his service was over in Korea. He never went back to Austria.
“I was so young when we left, I really don’t have any memories,” he said. “I love Selma; Selma is home.”
After the war, he worked for a clothing wholesaler. Then he went to American Candy Co., where he retired in 1997 as head of the purchasing department.
A widower, he volunteers at the Christian Outreach Food Bank and the Selma-Dallas County Public Library. And he dotes on his 10 grandchildren, four living in Selma, four in Pennsylvania and two in Texas.
“I try to stay busy,” he said. “I want to make Selma better because the city has been so good to me.”
Hostilities ended in the Korean War on July 27, 1953, with an armistice, not a signed peace treaty. So technically a state of war still exists on the troubled peninsula.