Wounded Marine Iraq veteran surprised with 'tricked-out truck'

Meg Hibbert

Lance Corporal Kevin Blanchard, right, che people who surhecks out the chromed engine of his restored 1973 Chevrolet pickup with some of tprised him June 23.

Little did Kevin Blanchard know when he was a teenager that the 1973 Chevrolet he got to carry around mowers for his summer job mowing lawns in Troutville would someday be tricked out for him by a community grateful for his service – and sacrifice – in Iraq.

Lance Corporal Blanchard lost a leg when the Humvee he was driving in the western part of that country hit an improvised explosive device in July 2005.

On Saturday, June 23, some of his former neighbors and almost two dozen people from businesses he didn't know gave something back to him.

When the Troutville native pulled up at Certified Collision Center in Salem, two Marines from Bravo unit he served in were standing on either side of the garage door. As it rolled up and a shiny, bright yellow pickup drove out, Blanchard at first didn't recognize his old truck.

"I was completely surprised," he said, after he shook a few hands, checked out the chrome wheels and engine, tried out the driver's seat and took a few minutes for everything to soak in.

"I knew my dad had the truck somewhere in Salem, doing something to it, but nothing like this."

One of his former Botetourt County neighbors, Keith Oldham who now lives in Salem and is a painter for Certified Collision, stood quietly by, enjoying Blanchard's surprise. Oldham designed and painted the "two-tone, hot-rod style paint job," as he described it. The truck is yellow over deep blue, with the two colors separated by orange flames outlined with green and red pin striping. The truck bed cover is emblazoned with the Marines' symbol, a spread eagle and the motto, "Semper Fi."

Mounted on the oak-floor bed are two plaques with the names of the businesses and individuals who contributed to the truck makeover. The plaques start off saying the truck is with "Special thanks to Kevin Blanchard for your sacrifice and service to our country."

Blanchard explained he had gotten the truck he called "an old clunker" to carry lawn mowers when he and Adam Goldmam, who lived in Fincastle, "had a little lawn-mowing business."

Keeping the secret of the tricking-out of the truck wasn't easy during the last year when 19 local businesses were donating time, labor and new parts, said his dad, Ronnie Blanchard, but would have been harder if his son wasn't living in Arlington and going to college at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., majoring in international business.

The times Blanchard had been home and asked about the truck, his dad said, "I did whatever I could to get him off the subject. He had no clue what was going on. "The truck turned out gorgeous. These guys here and all the ones who donated just did a fantastic job."

The Marine's mom, Gail, added, "We're just so overwhelmed with what everybody has done to honor Kevin.
The project started small. The father and son were starting to restore the truck when Kevin when off to serve in the Middle East. "We took it off the frame and did as much as we could do," his father explained. "I got to talking to David one day, and it kind of bloomed from there."

He was referring to David Gray of Certified, who said the two men had known each other about 20 years. The elder Blanchard works for Richmond Bumper and does similar work. "Initially, he came to me about having some Marine-theme artwork on the tailgate," Gray said. "Then Merchants Tire came over and offered new tires and wheels, and I thought, 'If Merchants would do that, let's see what other businesses would do."

The truck, which has antique plates, is going to stay in Troutville until its owner finishes college. "He would have to park it on the street in Arlington," his dad said, "and the first thing that would probably happen is the tires would get stolen."

The Marines at the truck presentation were Corporal Scott Bailey of Mount Pleasant, and Lance Corporal Brad Clauss of Roanoke. Clauss, who was with Bravo Company but on a different assignment that day, said Blanchard was in Alemar Province in Western Iraq when the IED blew up.

In addition to Certified Collision and Merchants Tire, businesses involved in the surprise and parts and services donated were: Advance Auto Parts, new engine parts; B&B Fasteners, stainless steel fasteners; Blue Ridge Color Co., primer and paint supplies; Carter's Towing and Service, exhaust system; Audiotronics, new sound system; Elite Towing, towing the truck; Guardian Glass, removal and installation of front and rear windshields; Joe Blackwell, installation of oak floor in truck bed; Kudos Trophies, plaque in truck bed; Line X of the Roanoke Valley, spray-in bed liner and bed cover; M&S Upholstery, recovered and installed new upholstery; PPG Paint, primer and paint supplies; Richmond Bumper, chrome plating; Tom Van Nortwick, custom striping; 3M Co., monetary donation, and 84 Lumber, wood bed for floor.