CLEVELAND, Ohio – Veterans exchanged familiar stories as children looked up in awe at massive military machines as part of history came to life right before their very eyes.
The wonder and reminiscence are the reasons why the Military Vehicle Preservation Association believes tanks, trucks and cars once used on the battlefield need to be cared for and displayed.
“By looking at the vehicles, people can better understand the sacrifices that the veterans made and the hardships they had to go through,” said John Cheney II, event director of the 42nd annual MVPA annual convention at the IX Center in Cleveland.
“These were not built for comfort. They crammed five or six people in some of these vehicles and sent them off in hardship to protect ourselves and protect our liberty and our freedom,” Cheney said.
“It brings back a lot of memories and I wanted to show these guys what I used to do, “said Kevin Nagy, an Army veteran from North Ridgeville, Ohio who brought his two children to the annual event.
It was a homecoming for some of the combat vehicles. The massive exposition center once served as a tank factory from 1950 to 1972, so the resurrected fossils were back in the place they were initially put together, bolt by bolt.
“We find them in weeds, we find them in barns [and] we bring them back to life,” said Cheney of the tanks, Jeeps and other vehicles the organization showcases at every chance they get.
The MVPA was created in 1976 and has more than 8,000 members around the globe. It brings restorers together, connecting people to help with that special tire or other vehicle parts someone may need. The convention is the year’s largest gathering where thousands converge to trade stories and make plans for their next personal acquisitions.
Just by looking at the eyes of the careworn veterans gazing at the freshly painted vehicles, you could see it brought back memories of lives and dreams from years past. Two of the tanks showcased at the convention, a M41 Walker Bulldog and an M42 Duster are on loan from Allan Cores, president of the National Rifle Association, an avid collector of military tanks and treasures.
Nagy, whose son was dressed in military gear and grinning ear-to-ear, eagerly showed his kids a familiar tank he spotted.
“I was field artillery and there’s an M109 right over there and I used to drive one of those,” he told them.
The kids could see, smell and feel where their dad had once served, fighting in combat during a tour in Iraq. It’s something no photos or stories could compare with. That’s what keeps the MVPA going. In this case, it’s mission accomplished.