JOSEPH SAMUEL “Tanker” BRANNON
January 23, 1951 – October 19, 1992
“Tanker” came to us from Spencer, in the beautiful mountains of West Virginia. It was, and still is, a rural community of hardworking people who treasure the values of a life not always available in large cities. Joe was instilled with an honest respect for hard work with the expectation of minimal return. Joseph Samuel “Tanker” Brannon was born to father Otis Virgil Brannon (1917-1979) and mother Verna Alice Morgan Thomas Brannon (1922-1994) in Spencer, West Virginia on January 23, 1951 along with his twin brother James Stewart Brannon (1951-2016). The boys grew up in often difficult conditions. Their father Otis, in and out of their young lives, neither supported the family physically or financially. Mom, Verna, cleaned houses and did other people’s laundry and ironing to make a home for her children. The boys would mow lawns in the summer and shovel sidewalks in the winter to help out in the constant family struggle to survive. In addition to the twins, the family included brothers Roy Lee Brannon (1940-1967), Otis Virgil Brannon Jr. (1949-2010), Norman Lee Morgan (1940-2001), Herschel Ray Morgan (1942-2011) and their six sisters, Nancy Ellen Brannon Waggoner (1953-2010), Alice Gay Brannon Lockamy (1948-2016), Lila Fern Brannon Conley (B1955), Charlotte Jeanette Brannon Fought (B1957) and Cindi Lynn Brannon Workman (B1966).
Tanker’s father served in the US Army when his nation called during WWII. Their oldest brother, Roy Lee Brannon died while on active duty in the Army at the age of 27. The twins, Tanker and James, entered the Army in 1968, shortly after their brother’s death before completing high school. Both brothers ended up in the “Calvary”. Joe trained in the mechanized Calvary and was sent to Vietnam to man a tank. It was there he earned the moniker he was known by upon joining K Co., 75th Rangers. “Tanker” was the name that stuck. Brother Jim was assigned to A Troop, 1/10th Calvary, an aviation unit out of Pleiku. No doubt, there were days when they opened their eyes and imagined they were home in the mountains of West Virginia. The mountains of Kontum Province in the Central Highlands were a beautiful and dangerous place. It was made exponentially more dangerous for our nation’s enemies by the brothers from Spencer, WV.
“Tanker” patrolled with K Co Rangers in the early part of 1970 on various teams. He served in all capacities and is remembered as a tenacious warrior by his team mates. He was calm under fire and always focused when in the field. Perhaps it was his upbringing, but he seemed at home in the mountains. The jungle held no fear for Joe. The team leader on Romeo-21 from July of 1970 remembers him 50 years later as being one of the most competent Rangers to patrol the big bad highlands. “Tanker” had a “run-in” with Punji stakes during one mission, leaving a permanent reminder of his service. Joe was honorably discharged on September 14, 1970 and earned numerous awards and decorations including the coveted Combat Infantryman’s Badge, given only to those Infantryman who faced our nation’s enemy in battle.
Life was not an easy transition for Joe when he came home. Returning to the safety of the mountains of WV, he soon found the demons and dangers he discovered in Vietnam had followed him home. Joe’s sister Cindi recalled: “Joe did not talk about the military after he came home. He was a soft/tender hearted person and had a big heart to other people. He had a great sense of humor and was very funny. He was always telling jokes or playing funny pranks on people. He may have been soft hearted and humorous but he was also a sensitive person who wore his heart on his sleeve.” As with many of our Rangers, they returned with injuries that were not always apparent.
Joe was married twice, the second time coming on March 4, 1975 to Patricia Ann Defibaugh Massie Brannon (B 1949) – it was her second marriage also. They had two children: Amber Dawn Brannon in1978 and Timothy Scott Brannon in 1979. Both married and had children of their own. Amber has two children (1 girl and 1 boy) and 1 grandson. Timothy has 4 children (2 girls and 2 boys).
After struggling post-combat for 20 years combined with an imminent end to his own marriage, Tanker Brannon succumbed to the demons and, sadly, took his own life on October 19, 1992 at the age of 41.
For many years after Joe’s death, his twin brother James was a frequent poster to the 75RRA bulletin board asking for information from any member who might have served with “Tanker”. He was devoted to his brother and the memory of his brother’s service. He was very proud of his Ranger brother as are we of both of them. James died in 2016 and hopefully re-joined his twin to share all the wonderful times that eluded them in this life. We hope he finally has learned the answers he sought for those questions he never got to ask.
Joe was the type of Ranger who would help anyone who asked for help. Yet, like many Rangers, he didn’t ask for help himself, he just chose what he thought to be the best path. The twins are both home now, and where ever Ranger heaven is, I hope for their sake it is mountainous
Joseph Samuel Brannon was laid to rest at Riverview Cemetery, in Ronceverte, WV