Tour of Duty
A truck’s mission to honor paralyzed veterans is realized
By Becky Henson
First the vivid midnight blue, purple and yellow paint job catches the eye. Then you see the image of the Statue of Liberty, surrounded by exploding fireworks. But when you notice the Purple Heart medals on each mirror it becomes clear that this is a rig that is making a statement. When it is parked, crowds gather and slowly walk around the truck, looking up and down, taking it all in. With each glance a new detail stands out: the eagle in the doorjamb or the planes flying in formation by silhouetted soldiers.
More often than not, someone in the crowd will salute. Some even wipe away a tear, as they see that this incredible work of art is dedicated to the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA). When the truck came to the W.G. (Bill) Hefner VA Medical Center in Salisbury, N.C., the injured veterans being treated there were especially moved.
“They were so proud,” says Nichole Krieger, Paralyzed Veterans of America senior director of corporate and direct marketing. “The ones who could get up out of bed did. They came out to see the truck. They saluted and they were honored.”
Birth of the PVA truck
Freightliner was making plans to display its latest models at the 2010 Mid-America Trucking Show, and needed to create a show truck designed to grab attention and highlight unique features. Motorsports marketing manager Stacey Premo was given the task of finding a worthy cause for this showpiece rig. While attending an industry event with Richard Petty Motorsports, she learned of the Paralyzed Veterans of America. Legendary NASCAR racer Petty has been involved with the organization for a number of years.
“I just knew it was a right fit,” says Premo. “We make trucks for the military; we have contracts with the government. It touched me personally, but it also made sense for the company.”
PVA is a nonprofit organization founded after World War II, and run by paralyzed veterans to benefit other paralyzed veterans. The group guides them through the paperwork that will allow them to get the benefits due them, and also helps them readjust to life after war and injury. Krieger was thrilled when Freightliner approached her about creating a truck to bring attention to the cause.
“It has given our organization more visibility across the nation. Veterans have been extremely proud of the truck,” says Krieger. “It’s the PVA’s 65th anniversary this year, and this has been a great way to let veterans know they’re honored.”
Coming up with the concept
“I gave him the logos and told him the organization, and that it was going to be a patriotic truck,” recalls Premo. “Then he got the creative freedom to design.”
Jory took his time to make sure that it would be something veterans would be proud of, calling on his design team to think outside of the box and deliver a look that was powerful and patriotic. Almost immediately they veered away from the obvious red, white and blue theme, and took a different approach at what it means to remember America’s veterans.
“I was really looking for something completely different, totally out of the norm,” says Jory. “I started doing my homework and research and putting together renderings and proposals.”
It took two months to put together different proposals, clean them up and format them for presentation.
From sketch to truck
Next Jory brought in Mickey Larson from Twins Custom Coaches, in Portland, Ore., as production producer to make the PVA truck a reality. The company has a strong reputation for airbrush artwork on all kinds of vehicles, and when this job came, Larson and his crew wanted to make it special.
“Everyone just kind of put their heads together. What did we all think would be fitting for a paralyzed veterans tribute? What would be worthy?” recalls Larson.
Larson supplemented his usual crew of airbrush artists with renowned car art technicians Chuck Buckler (Chuck B.) and Todd Cook from The Shop in Maryland, along with design technician Dmitriy Shakhmatov to assist in creating the final artwork. Shakhmatov helped with the final renderings of the design, while Chuck B. took on the difficult airbrushing, such as the Statue of Liberty and fireworks.
“At the end of the day, you really feel like you’ve done nothing,” Larson says. “The veterans are the ones who have given us the gift.”
From start to finish, the PVA truck was a labor of love. Jory wanted to acknowledge the hard work that everyone put into the truck, so he asked Chuck B. to list all of the contributors on the rear of the cab as a sort of signature to the work.
Unveiled at MATS
“When I saw it for the first time, I cried,” says Premo, getting teary-eyed just remembering. “I think everyone who saw it was blown away that day. It was set right near the main doors to get into the expo, so it was the first thing people saw when they walked in. It was amazing.”
From MATS, the PVA truck traveled across the U.S., stopping at truck shows, schools, NASCAR races and, of course, veterans hospitals, and rolling in parades. The truck put in some miles, with drivers taking it from Portland, Ore., to Detroit, Mich., to Dallas, Texas, to Washington, D.C., and down through the South.
“It’s not just another truck. Anyone who sees it literally gets teary-eyed. I think everyone connected to this truck has a picture of it on their wall,” says Jory.
Larson got to see the impact of his crew’s work firsthand when the truck made its way back to Oregon for a special event at Freightliner’s Portland office.
“My father flew to South Carolina and drove that truck back through hail, tornadoes and all that,” says Larson. “It worked out so that it was here in time for the Fourth of July parade.”
Everyone agreed that the truck should run in the hometown parade. A flatbed trailer was put on the truck and veterans from Freightliner climbed aboard to create a company float.
“There were so many salutes and tears. You could tell who the veterans in the crowd were,” Larson says.
Old soldiers never die
The PVA truck’s run with Freightliner will come to a close at the end of the year, but it will continue its work. In 2012, the truck will be auctioned off and 100 percent of the proceeds will go to Paralyzed Veterans of America.
“I’ve seen cars get auctioned, given back and re-auctioned multiple times,” says Premo. “That’s what I’m hoping for with the PVA truck. What an end to the journey of a truck that tells paralyzed veterans: ‘We honor you, we remember you, and we respect you.’”
Veterans Day is celebrated on Nov. 11 to honor all who have served in the U.S. military. The Paralyzed Veterans of America plays an important role in helping those veterans who have been permanently disabled as a result of war injuries, accidents or illness.
The organization’s work is especially vital today:
- The number of disabled veterans has gone up 25 percent since 2001 due to the long period of wartime and advances in medicine that help keep those with serious injuries alive.
- PVA is run by paralyzed veterans who know firsthand what type of help paralyzed veterans need.
- More than 750,000 Americans suffer from spinal cord injuries or disease, many of them veterans. The PVA promotes research and improving the quality of life of paralyzed veterans.
- A fulfilling, rewarding job is an important part of recovery after injury. PVA helps veterans find careers and reintegrate into the workforce.
- Fighting for better health benefits for veterans has always been a priority during PVA’s 65 years as a nonprofit organization.
- The PVA offers exercise programs and sports so that paralyzed veterans can continue to enjoy their favorite activities.
Don’t forget to thank a veteran you know this year on Veterans Day. To learn more about The Paralyzed Veterans of America, visit: www.pva.org.