14 May 2012

Remembering The Fallen: Vintage pickup is a rolling memorial

Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving the United States — people like 19-year-old Marine Lance Cpl. Phillip Vinnedge. Before he left for war in 2010, Vinnedge told his parents how he planned to buy an old Chevy truck to restore when he returned home. See how Julie and David Vinnedge decided to honor the sacrifice of their son and the 24 other Marines in his unit killed during their seven months in Afghanistan.      

Julie Vinnedge remembers her son talking for years about how, one day, he hoped to buy an old Chevy pickup that he and his father could work on and restore. 

“Phillip always admired the ’68 Camaro that his father had restored,” says Vinnedge, adding that her son was the sort of young man who always enjoyed a challenge. 

The events of 9/11 inspired Phillip to enlist in the Marines in 2009. He was on his first combat tour when, on Oct. 13, 2010, just 16 days after arriving in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, Lance Corporal Vinnedge died when the security vehicle he was riding in was blown up by a remote-denoted IED. Three other Marines from the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment were also killed in the attack.

The 3/5, also known as the Dark Horse Battalion, would suffer the highest casualty rate of any Marine unit during the past decade of war. From September 2010 to April 2011, 25 Marines from the 3/5 were killed in action and 200 were wounded.

A Rolling Memorial


“Two weeks after he passed,” remembers Vinnedge, “Phillip’s father called into local St. Charles, Mo., radio show to say he was looking for an old Chevy pickup as rust free as possible, and within an hour he received a phone call from a gentleman who had one he was thinking of selling.”

That truck — a 1951 Chevrolet 3100 with 28,000 original miles — was the starting point for a rolling memorial to Lance Corporal Vinnedge and his fellow Marines killed during those seven months of fighting in southern Afghanistan. 

“Phillip’s father, David, started by tearing the truck down to bolts,” says Julie Vinnedge. “The restoration started in January of last year and has had unreal support from the community, the local auto industry, and groups like the Patriot Guard Riders, a national motorcycle club whose members attend the funerals of U.S. armed forces members.” 

Since the “Fallen Hero’s Dream Ride” project began, Vinnedge has kept maintained a website and blog offering supporters weekly progress updates. The final stages of the Chevy’s restoration included a military-themed paint job, completed in April. 

“We hired an artist to paint one side of truck with an Afghanistan theme and the other reflecting Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery where Phillip is buried,” says Vinnedge. “The truck will also show the names and battlefield crosses of the other Marines killed during Phillip’s deployment.”

The finished truck will be unveiled this Memorial Day in Eureka, Mo., at Six Flags St. Louis. The Fallen Hero’s Chevy pickup will then be used to help promote organizations that have had an impact on Phillip's life, says his mother. These include the Marine's Toys for Tots Foundation and the Missouri Military Memorial Foundation.

To find out more about the “Fallen Hero’s Dream Ride” project, please go to www.fallenherosdreamride.org. The Historic Vehicle Association would also like to see the vehicles, the restoration projects, and hear the old car stories of other members of the military currently serving overseas. Please log your comments below or, to upload pictures, head over to the HVA’s Facebook page.   

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