GREENVILLE — After taking a breath, George Fink moved a U.S. Army personnel carrier into gear, released the brake and cracked a big smile.
“Just like being in a Cadillac,” the 91-year-old veteran said Wednesday.
It was a dream come true for Fink, who had always wanted to drive a U.S. Army tank, but never got the opportunity — until Wednesday.
Fink, of Selkirk, joined the U.S. Army at age 18. He served as a private from 1945 to 1947 at the end of World War II. He was stationed just outside Frankfurt, Germany, and drove a truck, delivering tanks and other machines needing repair.
But, he always delivered tanks, and never drove one. That’s when the staff at the Grand Rehabilitation and Nursing at Barnwell in Valatie stepped in.
The staff surprised him Wednesday with a trip to the Sunny Hill Resort & Golf Course where the resort staff showed him how to operate the personnel carrier that had been outfitted to drive like a tank.
“It was a big surprise,” Fink said before boarding the personnel carrier.
Barnwell, which provides rehabilitation and nursing services to patients needing short- or- long-term nursing care, recently asked residents to share their grandest wishes.
“We received stacks of papers in response,” said Barnwell Creative Director Shelley Serber. “We saw George’s wish and we said, “We have to do it.”
Barnwell staff made some calls and found Sunny Hill Resort & Golf Course, which owns a fleet of U.S. military vehicles from World War II, the Vietnam War and the Gulf War.
The vehicles are used for the golf course’s vintage military-style parade for guests, said Tinker Nicholsen of Delmar, one of the course’s operators.
Fink’s wish is the first fulfilled by the Barnwell staff. With the success of Fink’s wish-come-true, more wishes will be fulfilled in the future, Serber said.
“We’re starting off with a bang,” Serber said.
Fink took two turns around the track at the golf course in the military vehicle. The last time Fink drove a car was five years ago.
“This is fun,” he said from inside the 8-foot-high, 15-foot-long Army vehicle with tank treads. “It’s like I’m in the Army again.” The personnel carrier was built around 1984 and used in the Gulf War from 1990 to 1991, said Erik Nicholsen, Sunny Hill Superintendent and head of tank maintenance.
Originally painted tan, the piece of heavy equipment was painted in camouflage to match the rest of the golf course’s fleet and it was outfitted with a tank tread.
“I drove a bulldozer and this is a lot like that,” Fink said.
The thrill of getting behind the controls of an armored tank was something Fink had always dreamed of experiencing during his lifetime, Barnwell Recreation Director Bridget Delcoure said. Fink is known around the rehabilitation center for his love of animals and affable personality, Delcoure said.
“He enjoyed serving in the military and traveled to Germany and France,” Delcoure said. “It’s a great feeling to be able to do this for someone who served.”
To reach reporter Amanda Purcell, call 518-828-1616 ext. 2500, or send an email to email@example.com, or tweet to @amandajpurcell.