Lonny Fry is mastering the art of handling a big rig.
“It is an automatic which is one good thing,” said Lonny. “When I was introduced to the truck that is what surprised me. I thought it was a stick shift.”
This isn’t your every day diesel. The behemoth is hard to miss.
“I used to have a big boat. It’s like driving a big boat, but I feel I have a little more control with this,” said Lonny. “It will stop pretty quick.”
The Purple Heart Truck is seeing the light of day once again.
“It had been garaged for two years. It didn’t go anywhere,” explained Lonny.
The rolling war memorial with scenes of famous battles throughout history is dedicated to the American men and women of all branches of the military who sacrificed plenty.
“It is hard to look at this and not get emotional,” he said.
To this Vietnam veteran, the truck is more than just chrome and custom paint. It is a band-aid on four wheels.
“It is like soothing open wounds that were placed on one’s soul 50 years ago,” described Lonny.
Rockville’s Herb Delbridge hatched the idea of this mobile salute eight years ago. The man who earned three Purple Hearts himself on the battlefield bought and restored a rusty old 1983 fire engine.
Friends and fellow Vietnam veterans like John Clickner marveled as Herb’s vision took shape.
“Wow!” said John. “He had the foresight to what an old truck could be.”
Herb’s pride and joy became a fixture at parades and patriotic events across Virginia. But last year, Herb’s life and the truck grinded to a halt.
“Herb suffered a massive stroke,” said Lonny. “He will never be able to drive again. I think he knows that. He wants to deeply.”
When they learned of Herb’s grave condition, members of the Marine Corps League, like Jim Ralls, rallied around their brother in need.
“You have to do it,” said Jim. “When the call of help goes out no matter what branch receives it. It will be answered.”
Operation Purple Heart Truck was born a couple of months ago. With the help of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, Herb’s treasure is roaring back to life.
“We felt the need to to assist him and get the truck back on the road,” said John Clickner.
As for Herb, the road ahead is long. But the 81-year-old Marine is slowly shifting into a higher gear.
“He smiles. He laughs. He may not be able to drive any more, but he is our guy. He is the guy we love. He is the guy we support,” said Lonny.
Linda Delbridge said her husband’s improving health is fueled by the generosity of his own band of brothers.
“I know he is over the moon thankful for these Marines,” said Linda. “I can tell his back stiffens a little now that he knows it is in good hands with these guys taking over.”
“We’re trying to get some new floorboards. People to donate some carpet for our floors,” said Lonny.
Operation Purple Heart Truck. It is a group that goes beyond saving an old truck. This mission? Jump start and preserve the legacy of a hero.
“What [Herb has] done for our fellow veterans and our fellow Vietnam veterans is a wonderful thing. We’re just going to keep trying to carry it on,” said Lonny.
“It is always a team effort,” said Jim Ralls. “We got to do it. It will be done and it will be continued.”
The members of Operation Purple Heart Truck will put lots of miles on the vehicle in the coming months.
The group has 10 events planned this spring. The next one is April 30 at the American Legion Post 354 in Midlothian, which benefits the Fisher House.
For more information on events and to donate, go to purpleheartfiretruck.com
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