The trappings of war

Market: A gathering at Aberdeen Proving Ground draws military buffs - and those just interested in old stuff

May 13, 2001|By Joel McCord | Joel McCord,SUN STAFF

If you start by assuming that everybody collects something, then the ranks of World War II-era Jeeps, weapons carriers and trucks, and folding tables loaded with spare parts and technical manuals stretched across a 5-acre field at Aberdeen Proving Ground begin to make sense.

And if you assume you can't be running around with these things in 21st-century clothes, then you have to add the vendors selling old campaign ribbons, combat boots, canteens, fatigues and mess kits to make sure you're properly outfitted for what is billed as the largest military vehicle rally and flea market in the United States.

The rally, sponsored by the Washington Area Combat/Blue and Gray Military Vehicle Trust, wrapped up a three-day stand yesterday in an open field that once housed the headquarters of a bomb disposal unit.

"We're basically a car club, like a Corvette club or a Model T club, only we're into military vehicles," explained Tom Buonaugurio, the club president. "We're having a good time, and we're raising money for good causes."

Proceeds from the show go to the Army Emergency Relief Fund; Project Liberty Ship, the nonprofit organization that restored the 441-foot John W. Brown; and a local Scout troop.

Despite the uniforms and paraphernalia, few of the members have military connections, said Lee Holland, president of the Military Vehicle Preservation Association, the national organization. "We're not a military organization," he said. "We're an antique collection group."

Oliver Davis, vice president of the local organization, who says he flunked his draft physical, puts it a little differently.

"We're a bunch of old men dressed up in funny clothes having a good time," said Davis, who was wearing camouflage shorts, a T-shirt and broad-brimmed straw hat as he rode around the grounds in an olive-drab golf cart.

Tim Allen and George Hardy looked as if they had been called up from the motor pool in a 1940s movie, wearing khaki fatigues with sleeves rolled to their elbows and caps with the bills turned up, as they displayed their 1944 Dodge weapons carrier. Allen, an Eldersburg resident who served in the Army from 1978 to 1981, had a half-smoked, unfiltered Chesterfield tucked behind his ear. The pack was on the front passenger seat, near a tattered Nazi flag and a wine bottle wrapped in straw.

"Some French wine, a souvenir we picked up this morning," Allen said as if he had been driving around Cherbourg with General Patton.

Allen and Hardy, who has never served in the military, had been in Civil War re-enactment groups. "We evolved into the World War II groups," said Hardy, a Glendale resident.

A lot of World War II veterans are still alive, and they "appreciate that we're keeping alive the memory of what they did," added Allen, who was born after the war.

Richard Wark recalled displaying his 75 mm howitzer at a D-Day celebration on the Gettysburg battlefield when "this old man - I saw him from way across the field with his whole family - came straight for me."

"He said he trained on one of these in the mountains in Panama in '39, and then he started talking, and he just kept going. And people started gathering around to listen," said Wark, a resident of Riverton, N.J. "One time, he started to get emotional. I could see his eyes tear up, but I let him go."

Earlier, Wark, who had served in the New Jersey National Guard, had been taking apart and re-assembling the howitzer's firing mechanism for a group that had gathered around him.

"This is such a neat piece of machinery," he said. "It was engineered to be so simple. You just line this up here, drop in the first pin, then this pin, and it's there."

Not that everyone was interested in weapons. Nick Catania, a Vietnam veteran from Vincentown, N.J., deals in spare parts for Dodge trucks of the late 1950s and 60s.

He said he didn't want to have anything to do with the military after his discharge, but he "fell in love with this truck," and later found out the Army had been one of the largest purchasers of it.

"It's typical of any truck more than 11 years old," he said.

"It's difficult to get spare parts, so when you find some, you buy more than you need, then you sell them off to buy other parts and the next thing you know, you're a dealer, and here I am."

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