Contributed by David Rose, owner 1946 Chevy Hot Rod Tuck
Video by Casey J. Porter, Combustion Chamber
More than 40 years after the United States officially reached a final peace agreement with North Vietnam and pulled its troops out of Vietnam, a 1946 Chevrolet Pickup serves as both a tribute to and a reminder of those who returned to American soil following the conflict, as well as those who didn’t. The Vietnam Veteran Tribute Truck, now a sponsored program under United Charitable, Inc., works alongside The Strongest Memory Wins Research Foundation to assist the men and women who have served their country over the years in confronting their battles with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
To say that the Vietnam Veteran Tribute Truck found its purpose overnight would not be an overstatement, as the idea first came to Michael Andrezzi—a Marine who served in Vietnam and had purchased the ’46 Chevrolet in 2014—on one of his many sleepless nights. With the idea of turning the truck into a tribute to the countless soldiers who had served alongside him, he created a sign that invited Vietnam veterans to sign the truck, the tailgate of which was reserved for the family members of “fallen brothers and sisters who made the ultimate sacrifice.” The truck was prominently showcased at events all over the northeastern United States, and one by one, veterans came up to add their name to the growing list of signatures that adorned Andrezzi’s self-described “hybrid Rat Rod,” soon amounting to thousands of signatures.
In December of last year, the truck made its way to auction, where on December 28, 2017, it was purchased by David Rose, CEO of The Strongest Memory Wins Research Foundation, LLC. Rose saw the difference the tribute truck was making among veterans and the potential it had to do so in the future, as he too served in Vietnam as a combat medic and has lived with postwar shell shock and nervousness ever since. For soldiers who have endured the stress of war, the self-protection behaviors they learned during combat can resurface as reactions in everyday life based upon individual triggers, these reactions often deemed as inappropriate in civilian life. As an example, Rose recounted one experience in a testimonial for The Strongest Memory Wins, noting that once while shopping at a Lowe’s, a loud noise similar to that of a gunshot brought back the reactions of his past, and just as he had been trained to do in Vietnam, he hit the ground for cover.
However, with the help of Dr. Eric Lane, now president of the organization, Rose learned the process of re-association, a classical-conditioning technique or tool (not dissimilar to that of Pavlov’s dogs) for dealing with PTSD that retrains the brain to react in more appropriate ways to traumatic stimuli, choosing a stronger, benign reaction over the original negative reaction: in other words, the strongest memory wins. Through regular practice, the brain learns to bring forth a more positive, calming memory and reaction to these triggers, suppressing the unwanted reactions from before. In Rose’s case, after learning the technique from Lane, when a loud noise from a city bus served as a similar trigger to his experience at Lowe’s, while for a brief second, he went to duck his head, his mental state quickly switched to the peaceful memory he had re-associated the stimulus with. “I immediately realized that I was on a city street and moved on with my day forgetting about the incident,” he wrote. “Normally I would be upset and upearthed the remainder of the day. Not the case this time. My re-association and new memory track worked and I was able to complete my day with some level of normalcy.”
With Andrezzi’s Vietnam Veteran Tribute Truck headed to auction, Rose saw it as another opportunity to continue to better serve his postwar brothers and sisters facing the daily struggle of PTSD, an opportunity to show that they’re not alone and to share his experiences and The Strongest Memory Wins techniques for coping with the past that haunts them. As such, Andrezzi’s Vietnam Veteran Tribute Truck became an even stronger symbol of hope and healing, offering veterans an opportunity to confront their postwar issues alongside others, and with a whole new set of tools.
Operating primarily in Florida since Rose purchased the truck in late December 2017, the Vietnam Veteran Tribute Truck aims to attract and locate Vietnam veterans who are in need of assistance with their postwar issues, while also offering them a resource to cope, a direction of guidance and hope for a brighter future. At each public appearance the truck makes, brochures, personal direction and assistance are available on-site to those veterans who come forward. For many, the simple act of signing the tribute truck provides these veterans with a sort of recognition, healing and feeling of camaraderie they might not have experienced in a long time. And yet for others, it provides veterans a new resource and support to help confront the aspects of the war that returned with them and have stuck with them for so many years.
The Vietnam Veteran Tribute Truck Project has even partnered with The United States of America Vietnam War Commemoration, authorizing staff with the project to award commemorative pins, medals and certificates to Vietnam veterans, POW veterans, the families of veterans who have since passed on, and the families of soldiers both killed in action and taken as prisoners of war, never to return home. As a commemoration partner, the tribute truck is prepared to immediately award veterans who served on active duty between November 1, 1955, and May 15, 1975, a lapel pin thanking them for their service in the Vietnam War.
From Andrezzi’s original purchase of the truck to its current state, numerous individuals and organizations have donated their time and services to ensure the truck remains in tip-top shape and receives the attention it rightfully deserves, including: Harry Bates of Harry’s Restorations in Williamstown, New Jersey, who clear-coated the truck to preserve the signatures for free; Jim of Jim’s Lettering in Franklinville, New Jersey, who put other projects on hold to pinstripe and letter the truck for free after Andrezzi explained the idea to him; the NSRA for hosting the car at numerous shows; numerous other entities and individuals; and lastly, and most importantly, the thousands of Vietnam veterans and family members that have signed the truck and shared their stories.
A fairly young project, the Vietnam Veteran Tribute Truck runs entirely on 100 percent of the donations the project receives; its coordinators—also Vietnam veterans—receive no income from the project, and everyone involved is a volunteer. All donations to the Vietnam Veteran Tribute Truck are used to cover travel expenses, allowing the project to be moved more freely and seek exposure and provide support to more veterans. For more information on the project, upcoming appearances, to request an appearance and to learn how to donate or help, visit tributetruck.com.
Specifications for this truck:
• 1946 Chevrolet Pickup
• Custom 2X4 Tubular Chassis
• C4 Corvette Front Suspension with Heidts® Coilers
• Four-Wheel Disc Brakes with Wilwood® Master Cylinder and New Lines
• GM 350 CID V8 Crate Engine including New Fuel Pump, Water Pump, Starter Alternator and Edelbrock® 600 carburetor on an Aluminum Intake
• Lake Style Headers with Baffles
• Aluminum Radiator
• Turbo 400 Automatic Transmission with Lokar® Tall Shifter
• Powder Coated Smoothie Wheels with Mickey Thompson® Tires
We would like to give our thanks and appreciation to the following individuals:
• Harry Bates from Harry’s Restorations in Williamstown, NJ who generously clear-coated the truck to preserve the signatures for free.
• Jim from Jim’s Lettering in Franklinville, NJ who put his other projects on hold to pinstripe and letter the truck for free.
• Gene Winfield, the distinguished custom car builder of Mojave, CA who sought the truck out at the Right Coast Car Show in Syracuse, NY and signed the hood.
• Jerry Kennedy, Charlie Bryson, Tom Wilkerson, Bob Reynolds and Vernon Walker Jr. of the NSRA hosted the car at multiple NSRA shows.
• “Wings” and Mary Kalahan, from hotrodradio.com, prominently announced the truck during broadcasts at NSRA events.
• Yogi Somerville, from Yogi’s who donated parts for the truck.
• Lastly, we would like to thank the thousands of Vietnam Veterans and their families that have signed the truck, shared heartbreaking stories and continue to battle the effects of the Vietnam War every day.