HAMMOND | The World War II movie, "Fury," which won the box office on its opening weekend, stars Brad Pitt -- and a tank they used to make in Hammond.
The critically acclaimed film has drawn comparisons to "Saving Private Ryan" for its unflinchingly realistic depiction of combat. Set in Nazi Germany during the waning days of the war, the movie follows the crew of an M4A3E8 tank, which was built in Detroit and Flint, Mich., but which was a variant of the M4 Sherman that Pullman Standard Car Co. workers made in Hammond.
Pullman made railroad cars on Chicago's South Side but was pressed into military service during the war. In less than a year, Hammond native Raymond Fox set up a tank and weapons factory at 165th Street and Columbia Avenue in south Hammond. A Hammond Times editorial in 1943 said Fox was "a top-flight war plant manager and we believe there is none better in America."
Never forget, said Richard Barnes, a director of the Hammond Historical Society.
"We have to remind people that Northwest Indiana played a critical role in winning the war," he said.
"We sometimes forget that Northwest Indiana supported the military by building Howitzers, armaments and tanks. The Pullman plant in Hammond played such a critical role that the British War Department recognized its contributions."
Tanks and mortars lined 165th Street and the road back to the plant during the war years, Barnes said. Region residents earned good paychecks building munitions that suffused the region with a sense of patriotic pride. A few of the M4 Shermans they made remain today -- near the square in Crown Point and at Central Park in Griffith.
Workers at the Hammond plant provided the Allied Forces with M3 and M4 tanks with 75 mm cannons on rotating turrets with a 1,000-yard range that gave them an advantage on the battlefield, Barnes said. They were loaded onto rail cars, and shipped off to the front in both Europe and Japan.
Serial numbers got scratched off, because enemy spies monitored them to see how many tanks were rolling off the assembly line. Production numbers and other information about the plants were closely guarded, to deter saboteurs.
"The M4 Medium Tank, or Sherman tank, as the British promptly christened it, was in service from 1942 through the end of World War II," according to the Pullman Virtual Museum. "It is the most famous and numerous U.S. tank ever made. It has fought in many wars and battles: World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and the Arab-Israeli conflicts, to name a few. It has also served with almost every army in the world in some manner."
The Hammond plant also produced Howitzer canons, and 81mm mortars and mounts. Factories throughout Northwest Indiana supported the operation by supplying it with molds and parts.
"What's interesting is how Fox took an empty building, turned it into a production facility, and started putting out the tanks and armaments that are really credited with helping end the war in Europe," Barnes said.
He is assembling documents and working on a presentation about Fox and the tank plant he intends to make at the Hammond library.
"More people should know these armaments were manufactured by their fathers and grandfathers, their mothers and grandmothers," he said. "They should feel pride."