Every one of the 15,224 tanks made in the American Car and Foundry in Berwick, P.A., and used in combat in World War II had parts welded by Louis Kovach.
Now, at 90 years old, he got the chance to see one come home again.
After a 12-year effort by a group of citizens to “Bring Stuie Home,” a 1942 Stuart tank has returned to Berwick.
On April 3rd, the tank paraded through Berwick as part of a homecoming ceremony. Afterwards, it was placed on display at the Reliance Fire Hall for photo opportunities. Interest was expected to be high since over 9,100 people in northeastern Pennsylvania worked in the plant.
“It was built in Berwick and a lot of people served in those tanks,” Kovach said recently. “Coming back to its original place in Berwick was quite an achievement. It’s nice for Berwick.”
Kovach’s nephew is Columbia County’s commissioner Dave Kovach. He was part of the Stuart Tank Committee that spent 12 years locating, purchasing and shipping a Stuart tank.
“It’s starting to sink in more and more now. The darn thing is here,” Dave Kovach said.
The tank is on tour for a few months, including a possible fundraiser at the Bloomsburg Fair. After the tour, it will be restored at Cheetah Chassis, one of many businesses working in the former American Car and Foundry.
This tank was used by British troops in Italy as part of the U.S.’s lease-lend program. Brazil purchased the tank at a time when it feared that Argentina would join with Nazi Germany. Eventually, the tank found its way to an Argentinian farm to be used for scrap metal. The owner had 12 tanks at one point, and this, the last, was purchased by a British collector.
The committee almost gave up in 2013. They were having almost no luck finding a Stuart tank, and couldn’t afford the ones they found. They found one in Oregon that they could borrow for a weekend for their Columbia County Bicentennial in March 2013.
“We figured that would be our swan song – at least we brought Stuie home for a weekend,” McLaughlin said.
Frederick A. Shepperly, who had been a production manager at the plant before being called to war for expertise in repairing Stuart tanks, rode on the tank during the bicentennial parade.
“We were surprised by the reaction,” McLaughlin said. “A lot of people were seeing a Stuart tank for the very first time.”
Soon residents rallied to “Bring Stuie Home.”
Shepperly offered to match any large donations to the cause. The Wise family of the Wise potato chip company donated $25,000. Other businesses and individuals joined with their own donations. They eventually raised $120,000 to purchase and ship the tank.
Unfortunately, Sheppard passed away in March of 2015 and didn’t get to see the tank come home. However, there are still other living locals who worked on the tanks and are around for the homecoming.
“All the people in northeastern Pennsylvania who had families that worked there, they’ve been very supportive,” McLaughlin said.