‘History in motion’: Restored military vehicles to parade in Ligonier, marking centennial convoy
Downtown Ligonier next week will witness a parade that is long on horsepower — mostly of the mechanical kind.
Organized by the Military Vehicle Preservation Association, the procession is planned as part of a 36-day, 3,200-mile trek that will retrace as closely as possible the cross-country route a 1919 convoy followed to road-test Army vehicles of that time.
“It’s history in motion,” says Walter Schroth, an association member from Indiana County who is overseeing the leg of the journey through Western Pennsylvania. “We want to honor and celebrate our veterans. We want to bring attention to the historic 1919 convoy, and we want to show people these military vehicles and help them understand the part they played in our defense.”
Groups of local veterans are expected to view the restored vehicles up close after the Ligonier parade, when they will be on public display in the Fort Ligonier parking lot on South Market Street, at Ligonier Borough’s Loyalhanna Street parking lot and at the bus parking lot beside the Ligonier GetGo.
Leading the parade, beginning at East Main and Bell streets, will be a horse-drawn carriage pulling a six-pound replica cannon from the Fort Ligonier collection.
Schroth served in the Air Force from 1971-75, assigned to vehicle maintenance. He recently returned from England and Normandy, where he drove his rebuilt World War II-era Jeep during D-Day commemorations.
For this month’s convoy, he’ll drive a 1944 WC-56 Dodge command car — a World War II vehicle used by military leaders like Gen. George S. Patton.
The convoy will include other privately owned vehicles dating from World War II through modern conflicts. A few older vehicles are expected, including a 1919 Dodge touring car.
The 1919 convoy started in Washington, D.C., and reached its destination at Lincoln Park in San Francisco. As detailed in an exhibit at the Lincoln Highway Experience museum on Route 30 east of Latrobe, the convoy included a young Dwight D. Eisenhower, then a lieutenant colonel on board as an observer for the War Department.
The first Army transcontinental motor convoy used 81 Army vehicles, 24 officers and 258 enlisted men. They covered the 3,251-mile journey in 62 days, according to the Eisenhower Presidential Library.
For most of the way, the convoy traveled on the newly constructed Lincoln Highway. In Western Pennsylvania, Schroth pointed out, the highway follows the same general route as the earlier Forbes Road — an actual 18th century military road that British forces used in their advance to drive out French foes occupying what is now Pittsburgh.
“Our goal is to try to follow the original route as closely as we can, wherever it is practical,” he said. “Some of it has been modernized and may include relocation of the road bed.”
Schroth missed a 2009 association convoy that retraced the 1919 trip on its 90th anniversary. He took part in later association trips along Route 66; the Alcan Highway, which connects points in Alaska and Canada; and the Bankhead Highway, which runs from D.C. to San Diego.
Close to 190 people have registered to take part in all or some of this year’s Lincoln Highway journey beginning with a Saturday departure from York, Pa., at the conclusion of the annual association convention there. After overnight stops in Gettysburg and Bedford, the convoy’s Tuesday itinerary begins with a visit to the Flight 93 National Memorial in Somerset County, from about 8 to 11 a.m. After the parade and other activities in and around Ligonier, from noon to 4 p.m., the convoy will end the day at the Ramada Greensburg Hotel and Conference Center.
On Wednesday, it will proceed on toward East Palestine, Ohio — with one-hour stops and public displays of the vehicles at about 8 a.m. at Rossi’s Pop-Up Marketplace, next to the Walmart in North Versailles, and at about 10 a.m. at the shopping center along Route 65 in Leetsdale.
Providing support locally for the convoy are the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau, the Ligonier Valley Chamber of Commerce, Fort Ligonier, the Ligonier Giant Eagle and the Lincoln Highway Experience museum.
Schroth will end his stint with the modern convoy in Ohio. Others will continue on to an anticipated Sept. 14 arrival at Lincoln Park.
“It’s kind of a test for yourself and your vehicle,” Schroth said. “You’re running pretty hard. My command car is 75 years old. We rebuilt the engine, and we fixed and repaired it, but it’s still 75 years old.”
Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jeff at 724-836-6622, [email protected] or via Twitter .