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Hegewisch vet treads carefully to land a tank

Korean War veteran Ed Jarmuszka stands in front of an M60 Patton tank in theFar South Side neighborhood of Hegewisch. The tank is the centerpieceof a new veterans memorial set to be officially unveiled Saturday. | Provided

Ed Jarmuszka wanted a tank — a 50-ton American-made beast that would be the centerpiece of a veterans memorial.

But Jarmuszka, commander of the American Legion South Shore Post 388 in the Far South Side community of Hegewisch, also wanted to be sure some veterans would still be alive to enjoy the tank by the time it arrived.

“We kept saying, ‘All these veterans are getting older and they’ll all be dead before we get this tank,’” said Jarmuszka, who is 83 and a veteran of the Korean War.

Ten years after Jarmuszka first made his request to the federal government, a freshly painted M60 tank is set to be unveiled Saturday at the corner of Baltimore and Brainard — the site of an old gas station and a stone’s throw from the neighborhood’s popular Pudgy’s Pizza.

On Friday, Jarmuszka choked back tears as he talked about his gratitude to those — including the local painters union and an area heavy equipment company — that helped get the tank in place and presentable.

Jarmuszka said he knew that it might take a long time to secure a tank — he just didn’t know it would take 10 years.

“You send paperwork, they send it back. … It keeps going like that for a few years,” said Jarmuszka, who during the Korean War was a crewman on a Sherman tank.

Every year, the American Legion post loses about six members to old age, Jarmuszka said.

Nevertheless, the government wanted to be sure that — among other things — the Hegewisch American Legion post was in good standing and had enough members to warrant the loan. Despite paying about $20,000 to get the tank to Hegewisch and insure it, it doesn’t actually belong to the post.

“If they wanted to, they could take it back,” Jarmuszka said.

And each year, the post must send the Army a photograph to show that the tank hasn’t been allowed to deteriorate.

So on Saturday, Jarmuszka said he’ll be delighted to see his fellow veterans and community members gather for the dedication.

And, he said, “I’ll be glad it’s over.”