The 70-year-old armored half-track at Mike Spradlin’s welding shop will get a whopping two miles per gallon when he’s done restoring it.
But, even with gas nearing $4 a gallon, keeping it on the road is the least he can do for those men who paid a much heavier price.
The half-trackmanufactured in Cleveland during World War IIwill join a growing fleet of historic military vehicles restored in recent years by the Springfield businessman.
“I can’t wait to see their faces light up when I pull up in the half-track,” Spradlin, vice-president of Spradlin Bros. Welding, said. “They’re going to blow a cork.”
For Spradlin, driving his loud, no-frills vehicles to local veterans’ eventslike the recent Purple Heart Day ceremony near the Springfield post officeis his way of thanking the men he calls “quiet heroes.”
“You show up with the truck,” he said, “and it’s like they’ve seen an old friend.”
Spradlin, 51, belongs to the Ohio Motorpool, a unique car club of sorts for people who own military vehicles and more. One member, from Findlay, has a deactivated Nike-Hercules missile he hauls around on a trailer.
“I’ve always been a history buff,” Spradlin said. “I think I watched too much ‘Rat Patrol’ as a kid.”
He bought his first vehiclea WC51 weapons carrier from World War IIin 2008 after spotting it online for $12,000.
Spradlin’s wife, Rhonda, was less than pleased at first.
“She was so mad at me,” he said, “she wouldn’t even ride in the first one.”
But, unlike the muscle cars Spradlin used to restore, it soon became apparent that this was different.
“The shiny cars were for my ego,” he said. “These are for other folks.”
Considering his Vietnam-era Jeeps, for example, look like they could’ve been parked yesterday at Khe Sanh, the trucks do more than just take veterans on a simple trip down memory lane.
“That old guy was zoned out,” Spradlin said, pointing to a desktop picture on his computer of a World War II veteran standing near the Dodge-made, 1942 weapons carrier that saw service in Europe. “You could just see the memories flooding back. Some guys will touch it and weep. They always touch and rub the fender.”
“It amazes me,” he added, “how God uses that old truck to touch people in ways I never imagined.”
Spradlin views his trucks as a ministrya ministry that encourages veterans to talk about their service.
Another veteran, who drove that exact model of weapons carrier, opened up about the guilt he still felt because two passengers were killed when it overturned in Italy.
“They’ve been carrying these burdens all these years,” Spradlin said. “Sometimes, their families don’t even know.”
A lifelong Springfielder and longtime collector of militaria, Spradlin didn’t know about the therapeutic power of artifacts until he showed a uniform he’d acquired to a now-late uncle here in town.
Up until seven years ago, no one in the family knew for sure what Uncle Cecil E. Smith had done in Vietnam.
But, as soon as he saw the uniform, the onslaught of memories was too overwhelming for Smith to containhis first mission in Vietnam, he revealed, was at My Lai, where 500 villagers were massacred by fellow American soldiers on March 16, 1968.
“It’s amazing how much hurt and pain there is,” Spradlin said, “and these guys hold it all in.”