Tuesday, June 16, 2009
By Virginia Ross Shank
Trent Kunselman's eyes widened with excitement as he examined at least 60 military vehicles pulling into East Palestine’s city park Monday.
The 12-year old said his uncle, who had been in the Army for several years, shared a few facts about his military experiences with him, but Trent had never seen any military vehicles up close until the Transcontinental Motor Vehicle Convoy made its stop in East Palestine to refuel and have lunch.
The convoy, which is being presented by the Military Vehicle Preservation Association, left Washington, D.C., on Saturday and is expected to arrive in San Francisco July 8.
East Palestine was one of several scheduled stops convoy members have made along their journey. The local stop Monday afternoon was part of an effort to retrace the original route of a military vehicle convoy that came through the area in 1919.
“I just think it’s really cool,” Trent said. “There are so many of them, and they all look so different. I especially like the motorcycles. That was neat for them to come here just like before, years ago.”
The East Palestine seventh-grader said he’s looking forward to sharing some of what he learned Monday with his uncle and other family members.
“I didn’t really know about any of the first convoy or anything before now,” he said. “I understand a little more about it all now.”
For convoy participants such as Frank Kutz of Rogers, seeing the enthusiasm of young people like Trent makes the journey all the more worthwhile. Kutz, who served stateside in the Army during the Korean War, joined the convoy in East Palestine and plans to drive his World War II jeep to South Bend, Ind. He said at least 90 percent of the members of the convoy are military veterans.
“Something like this really brings history to life for people, especially the young people who have never had an opportunity to see any of this up close,” he said. “It’s a re-enactment of something historical, but it’s also history in the making because it’s something taking place right here and right now, something they can see and understand and grasp. It’s a wonderful opportunity for them to be part of something. It’s also a way to honor our military and our veterans.”
At least 1,000 area residents gathered at the city park Monday to welcome the convoy. The group is attempting to follow the same route and make all of the same stops as the original convoy, including the stop in East Palestine. East Palestine Area Chamber of Commerce, which was instrumental in bringing the convoy to the city, sponsored a community-wide luncheon. A fly-by of classic biplanes coincided with the visit.
“The support is wonderful,” said chamber President Don Elzer. “It’s great to see many of our local residents here for this to show support, welcome them and then send them on their way.”
According to convoy director Terry Shelswell, the original convoy in 1919 was a military experiment conducted by the federal government after World War I to determine whether our armed forces could protect the West Coast with vehicles driven from the East Coast. A young Lt. Colonel Dwight D. Eisenhower traveled with that convoy as an observer for the War Department, and the experiences he witnessed along the journey influenced his presidency.
Eisenhower, who was fresh out of the military academy when the tour started, promoted the need for a national highway system and is credited with founding the nation’s interstate highway system based on his experience on the convoy.
The trip not only marks the 90th anniversary of the convoy, but also the year of Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birthday. Lincoln is the highway’s namesake.
Shelswell said although several groups have followed the route on various occasions, as far as 2009 convoy organizers can determine, this trip of the Transcontinental Motor Vehicle Convoy marks the first time the original route has been retraced with military vehicles since the original convoy.
He said the 2009 convoy is following the original route as closely as possible, although some portions of the original route are privately owned and not open to the public, while some are in roughly the same condition they were 90 years ago.
Open to military vehicles of all eras, the convoy includes military jeeps, pickup trucks, radio vehicles, ambulances and motorcycles. Some of the vehicles in the convoy are earlier models of vehicles still being used by U.S. armed forces today.
Shelswell said he expects at least 50 vehicles to make the full trip, although about 200 are registered to participate. Some convoy members, such as Kutz, jump on and off the convoy, coming and going along the route at various points.
“The interest has been amazing and the welcome here in East Palestine has been tremendous,” Shelswell said.
“We really appreciate it. The trip has been great so far, and we’ve been very fortunate to have so many people turning out to welcome us and support us. It’s been a really great experience so far.”
For more information about the convoy, its travel route and scheduled stops, visit the Web site