Historic military convoy greeted in Ligonier; part of ‘3,000-mile-long July 4 parade’
Watching military vehicles rumble through the Diamond in Ligonier on Tuesday brought back a flood of memories for 91-year-old Albert Lambert, who served in the U.S. Army’s occupation forces in post-World War II Japan.
“I enjoyed seeing those vehicles,” said Lambert, a Ligonier resident who served in the Army from 1946-49.
He was among a large gathering of people who lined Ligonier’s East Main Street and crowded around the Diamond to see about 45 privately owned military vehicles traveling with the Military Vehicle Preservation Association’s 100th anniversary of the Army convoy that crossed the nation.
Jeeps, ambulances, one-half and three-quarter-ton trucks and Army and Air Force field staff cars paraded through the borough before taking a break at Fort Ligonier. The convoy included vehicles from wars in which the nation fought.
The modern-day convoy is retracing most of the Washington, D.C.-to-San Francisco route of the 1919 U.S. Army Transcontinental Motor Convoy, which included a young Lt. Col. Dwight D. Eisenhower among its participants.
The expedition of 81 vehicles that traveled 3,251 miles in 62 days influenced Eisenhower’s decisions to build a national interstate highway system when he served as U.S. president from 1953-61, according to the Eisenhower Foundation.
The association’s convoy started Saturday in York and is following the Lincoln Highway as much as possible. The convoy is scheduled to reach San Francisco in 32 days, said Terry Shelswell of Holly, Mich., commander of the 2019 convoy.
The convoy, which consists of about 100 people in the military and support vehicles, started Tuesday morning in Bedford, climbed the Allegheny Mountains to the Flight 93 National Memorial near Shanksville and were welcomed into Ligonier around 1 p.m. The convoy stopped in the Greensburg area Tuesday night.
“It was wonderful,” Shelswell said of the trip along Route 30 between Bedford and Ligonier and the reception received in towns along the way.
Joining the motorized vehicles in the parade in Ligonier was a historically appropriate horse-drawn wagon carrying a 6-pound gun, courtesy of Fort Ligonier.
“As we have learned, it is a 3,000-mile-long Fourth of July parade,” Shelswell said.
This is the association’s fifth convoy and the second one to retrace the 1919 military convoy route.
While the trucks, Jeeps and ambulances made it up and down the mountains between Bedford and Ligonier, one of the oldest vehicles in the convoy, a 1918 Dodge Army field staff car, could not make the trip from the Flight 93 Memorial.
Mark Ounan of Fairfield, Adams County, had his 1918 Dodge engine running at the Flight 93 Memorial site, but he was not confident he could make it up and down the hills for the next 25 miles.
“Pennsylvania, with these hills, kicks your butt,” said Ounan, 54, an Army veteran who lives near Gettysburg.
Even though the convoy’s route will take them through the much higher Rocky Mountains and Sierra Nevada mountain in California, Ounan said the route is tougher through Central and Western Pennsylvania because of the steepness of the hills. The roads through the mountains in the West cut back and forth up the mountains, he explained.
The Pennsylvanians on the route are part of an international contingent of drivers and riders, some of whom are from New Zealand, France and Canada, Shelswell said.
“We play the national anthems from each of the countries in the morning,” Shelswell said.
Shelswell hopes the sight of the convoy will make people think of their forefathers who served their country.
“We want them to think about the young men who did it in 1919 with primitive vehicles of that time … and thank a soldier for their service,” Shelswell said.
Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at 724-836-5252, [email protected] or via Twitter .