Brookhaven men help restore history

Published 6:00 am Monday, December 10, 2001

December 7, 1941: That date stands out in history as one ofAmerica’s worst, the day Pearl Harbor suffered a surprise, deadlyattack from Japan, involving the United States in World War II.

With the help of two Brookhaven residents, the efforts of menand women who fought for freedom that day — or any other time –will not be forgotten.

Bringing history to life is the goal of Eric Boyd and ChadSmith, who have spent countless hours over the past few yearsrestoring military vehicles.

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Their work helped authenticate the Friday parade in New Orleansthat kicked off a weekend of events honoring the historical day andthe opening of a new Pacific Theater exhibit at the National D-DayMuseum called Operation Legacy.

The men considered it a great honor to be called upon by paradeofficials and representatives of the museum, asking them to roundup almost 20 of the 35 restored military vehicles needed forveterans to ride in during the parade.

That was a fairly simple task because they are members of theMississippi chapter of Deep South Military Vehicles.

“Groups get together and restore the old military vehicles andkeep the history alive,” Smith said of the club, which is part of anation-wide effort.

Boyd’s 1943 Dodge WC-63 troop transport truck carried a group ofCBIs, or China-Burma-India fighting forces, and members of the 14thAir Force Flying Tigers in the parade Friday, while Smith’s FordJeep provided a seat for the honored Jack Lucas.

“He was the youngest congressional medal of honor recipient,”Smith said. “He lied about his age and joined the military when hewas 14, then he jumped on two Japanese grenades when he was 16years old. And he lived.”

The Brookhaven duo’s close friend, Doug McKee of Byram, also hadan important guest to escort during the parade.

His WC-57 command vehicle carried Col. Paul Tibbets, the pilotwho dropped the atomic bomb on Japan, essentially ending thewar.

“It will be an honor for me to drive Paul Tibbets. One of themain reasons we do this is to honor the veterans,” said McKee, whohas been restoring military vehicles for eight years.

Thursday morning, while preparing to caravan to New Orleans withother Mississippians, parade participants agreed that what theylook forward to the most is having the opportunity to meet veteransand hear their stories.

“They’re just neat guys. They’ve sacrificed a lot,” said Smith,mentioning how many veterans notice the military vehicles in thearea surrounding his welding shop and stop to ask about them.

A lot of the time, conversation about wars or military vehiclesleads members of the Deep South club to another “gold mine.”

“You just have to keep your eyes and ears open,” said McKee,recalling how a discussion on military vehicles led him to find theold WWII vehicle he learned to drive when he was 14 years old.

The vehicles are often found in barns or pastures, filled withrats and other critters that have taken up residence in them.

Sometimes, though, they find a vehicle in near perfectcondition, like Boyd’s troop transport vehicle, despite beingalmost 60 years old.

“It had been stored in a potato cellar in Colorado, and I boughtit off eBay without even looking at it,” he said. “It was inremarkable condition, hardly any rust on it at all.”

The club members agree that finding a military vehicle of anytype can be quite a thrill, especially when they can get a gooddeal.

“One guy had an LVT (landing vehicle tracked), and he said ‘ifyou can haul it off, you can have it,'” Smith recalled.

Boyd and Smith started comparing notes on their military vehiclecollections when their wives, long-time friends Michelle and Becky,started talking about their husbands’ hobbies, realizing they hadthe same hobby.

The wives say they don’t mind the time-consuming hobby, and evenenjoy an occasional ride in the green machines.

“It’s pretty neat. The kids love it, too, because they get toride it in the pasture,” Mrs. Boyd said.

They now have about a dozen vehicles, most of which are ongoingprojects, calling for countless hours of hard work and sweat,something the men see more as fun than labor.