Fort Worth

Historic military convoy pauses in Fort Worth

A World War II era military car leaves Farrington Field in Fort Worth to go to the camping site for the Bankhead Convoy Sunday. The military vehicles are retracing the 1920 Transcontinental Motor Convoy that went from Washington, D.C. to San Diego.
A World War II era military car leaves Farrington Field in Fort Worth to go to the camping site for the Bankhead Convoy Sunday. The military vehicles are retracing the 1920 Transcontinental Motor Convoy that went from Washington, D.C. to San Diego. Special to the Star-Telegram

Rolling history is taking a break Monday at Farrington Field.

Billed by organizers as the longest Veterans Day parade in history, a line of almost 40 iconic military vehicles roared into town Sunday.

Veterans Day is Nov. 11, but dozens of veteran military vehicles left Pohick Park in Lorton, Va., on Sept. 17, bound for San Diego, Calif. Many veterans are among drivers and support crews in the Bankhead Military Vehicle Convoy.

They’re retracing as closely as possible the 3,300-mile route of a military convoy that in 1920 drove from the White House to San Diego’s Balboa Park on Bankhead Highway, the nation’s first interstate. Part of Fort Worth’s porition of the highway is 7th Street.

If they stay on schedule, (see www.facebook.com/MVPAConvoy, or www.convoyontheair.org), the fleet of war machines will reach its target Oct. 17.

A news release from the convoy’s organizer, the Military Vehicle Preservation Association, promised “motorcycles, jeeps, and large cargo trucks ranging in age from World War I era to those just released from armed forces inventories.”

Fort Worth City Councilman Zim Zimmerman rode into town with the convoy in relative comfort — he chose a Packard Navy staff car. Councilman Dennis Shingleton drew a 2 ½-ton cargo truck, known by soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen in conflicts from World War II to the present as a Deuce-and-a-Half. Former councilman Steve Murrin saddled up in a half-track whose markings claimed Australia as its origin.

Zimmerman, 73, told the 50 or so drivers and support crew members that refueling for the next leg of their journey, as well as meals and some other accommodations were “on the city.”

“Fort Worth is a military town and we go out of our way to support our military men and women,” Zimmerman said. “Their service is something to be appreciated, and we’re tickled to work with them.”

Escorted by 12 Fort Worth police officers on motorcycles and in patrol cars, the convoy rolled into Cowtown and occupied the parking lot east of Farrington Field. The vehicles will be on public display from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday.

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price will tour the site at 5 p.m. and present the collectors with a city proclamation.

Amateur radio operators are monitoring the convoy’s progress and helping to facilitate nightly stops and special events.

“We developed this with the radio operators in 2013,” said a Military Vehicle Preservation Association member, Terry Shelswell, of Michigan. “They have a transponder on one of the vehicles that allows continuous updates to plot our progress on the website.”

This year’s convoy is the most ambitious event yet executed by the preservation group, said Silsbee resident Ken Smith, who joined the convoy in Garland and will stay with it to the West Coast.

Smith, 69, restored his 1951 Korean War-era Willys M38 jeep and seldom passes up a chance to drive it among similar vehicles.

“Being patriotic I wanted to do Veterans Day parades,” Smith said. “That was my first thing. Then I joined the MVPA, got acquainted with other clubs, and started doing convoys.”

Shelswell, 57, said it’s humbling to see children “standing at the ends of their driveways, along city streets waving flags for us. The second area it’s humbling is the sight of our veterans, some of them senior veterans, standing and saluting us. They have it wrong. We’re doing this to salute them. There’s not a dry eye among us when we drive through something like this.”

The motivation behind the 1920 Transcontinental Motor Convoy led by Col. John F. Franklin on the spanking-new Bankhead two-lane was to prove the practicality of motor vehicles for the Army’s transportation needs. Today, the military vehicle collectors are motivated by a desire to share the spectacle of hundreds of historic wheels rolling in unison, to spread the emotion of patriotism the collectors enjoy and to just have a good time.

“I started with them in Virginia and I’m going all the way to support veterans and have fun,” said Aaron Diamond of New Jersey, who at 19 is the group’s youngest member. On his third convoy, he’s helping his “crazy uncle” drive the 1982-model M151A2 Toe missile carrier restored by Jim Diamond, 50, also of New Jersey.

“It’s the only one in desert camo,” Jim Diamond said of his jeep.

None of the vehicles, with the possible exception of the Packard, are what you’d call easy on drivers and passengers. But the folks who are pushing the metal monsters westward another 1,300 miles from here look determined.

Some sections of Bankhead Highway — a thoroughfare that sliced through Texas from Texarkana to El Paso — retain that name. A road that passes the Pythian Home in Weatherford is an example. According to Preserving Texas History, Bankhead had such nicknames as the Broadway of America and the Route 66 of the South. But as the nation and its ribbons of pavement grew, Bankhead was designated U.S. 80 and 180.

On Tuesday, the convoy heads west into Parker County. Drivers will stop for lunch at the National Vietnam War Museum on U.S. 180, just east of the Palo Pinto County line.

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