A convoy of more than 40 restored military vehicles stopped in Abilene on Wednesday during a one-month-long drive from Washington D.C. to San Diego. The Military Preservation Association is marking the 100th anniversary of the completion of the Bankhead highway by driving the 2015 Bankhead Highway Historic Military Convoy across the country following the historic Bankhead route.
American flags were lined up along Hickory and South First streets as the midmorning sun shined on a crowd waiting to welcome the rare military convoy to Abilene. Gary McCall and his 94-year-old father, Robert Dan McCall, were sitting on their tailgate waiting for the convoy to arrive.
“I’m enjoying the sunshine and the festivities out here,” Robert McCall said. The WWII Veteran worked as a bulldozer operator during the war and remembers driving vehicles just like the ones in the convoy.
“Anything pertaining to the old Army, you’re just inclined to be drawn to it and you’re still interested in it even though you know, I ain’t no spring chicken,” McCall said.
Even after so many years the man has a clear picture of the scenes and experiences of World War II but Jennifer Lenches says that’s not the case for most Americans.
“Most people, as my curator, William Lenches says, history begins the moment they are born, anything that happened before that is almost unrealistic to them in that they see it maybe in their mind as a film or a book, old grainy photographs, especially when you look at WWII vehicles,” Lenches said.
Lenches is the Project Coordinator for the 12th Armored Division Memorial Museum in Abilene.
She often asks students when they think of WWII do they see it in their minds in color or black and white, she said most of them say black and white.
“By seeing the vehicles in real life it’s bringing to them a context that maybe they’ve never had before,” Lenches said.
Several college students were gathering up waiting on the convoy, most of them are just fans of classic cars.
Hardin-Simmons University student Thomas Schroeder said he’s always had an interest in cars. He worked with his dad to rebuild two, a 1957 MG Migit and a 1966 Chevy Malibu.
Cisco College student Cole Orr is studying auto mechanics and welding he said he admires the mechanics of the older engines.
“The first generation old WWII cars mechanics are a lot simpler so it’s really nice to see people restoring them and putting them back to where they were,” Orr said.
And then the camouflage jeeps, ambulances, motorcycles and cargo trucks roll into the parking lot across from the 12th Armored Division Memorial Museum greeted by a cheering crowd. Dan McCluskey parked his 1964 Dodge Ambulance and started talking to an onlooker.
McCluskey said the convoy is traveling from Washington D.C. to San Diego and passing through 421 towns.
“Some of them are just wide spots on the road and some of them are nice little towns like Abilene here,” McCluskey said.
Their top speed is 30-35 miles an hour, McCluskey said it’s a slow trip.
“It’s taken us nine days to get across Texas so that’s quite a job getting across this state,” McCluskey laughed.
The older vehicles need a lot of maintenance along the way and it can be a challenge just keeping them running but McCluskey said it’s all worth it.
“It’s amazing the outpouring of flags and cheering that we’ve had,” McCluskey said. He’s seen people travel quite a distance from their homes to sit alongside the road on their route and cheer on the convoy.
“A lot of them are out there waiting for an hour or two hours just to wave their flags at us,” McCluskey said. “So it really reinvigorates you that America is still alive and there is a whole lot of patriotism out there and that’s what we’re finding all along the way.”