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Gary Harris, A Vietnam Veteran
and member of the VFW Post 776,
Purchased a used recreational vehicle
several months ago with one thing
in mind - to make a memorial
-on-wheels for his fellow comrades.
a hugh RV painted gleaming black
with white and red accents and a
mural painted by local sign artist
Darrell Reed, has hit the streets.
Driving to keep soliders' spirits alive
By Heather Bell
A Radford war veteran who was trying to find a way to honor fellow military personnel who have given their lives to their country has
found a super-sized way to do so. Gary Harris, a Vietnam veteran and member of the VFW Post 776, purchased a used recreational
vehicle several months ago with one thing in mind-to make a memorial-on-wheels for his fellow comrades. Now, "A Soldier's Spirit,"
a huge RV painted gleaming black with white and red accents and a mural painted by local sign artist Darrell Reed, has hit the streets.
Harris said he did all of the work himself aside from the murals, and is pleased with the results.
"When I first bought it, it was yellow and it looked pretty bad, "Harris said. " But I knew exactly how I wanted it to look right from the
start and I think I got it where I wanted it."
Harris, a U.S. Army veteran, has taken the RV to several parades and other events honoring the military and says he is just at the
beginning of his quest. He plans to fit as many names of fallen soldiers on the side of the vehicle as he can, asking family members to add
the name of their loved ones lost in war.
The RV has three such names so far, but the memorial does not end there. In addition to adding names, Harris is also asking family
members to write down memories and stories about their loved one in a scrapbook he plans to keep with the RV and add to.
"I want this filled with stories, " he said, pouring over the scrapbook. "Sacrifices are too easily forgotten. Through this, people can tell
the stories of someone they've lost through war, everyone will see their names on the side of this vehicle and the names and memories
will be kept alive."
The first name Harris added to "A Soldier's Spirit" was that of his good friend Steve Traynor, with whom Harris served in Vietnam.
"He died the day after his birthday, 48 days before we were going home," Harris said in a recent interview. " And we had plans, big plans,
for after we got back. Those plans were lost, but his name, memory and sacrifice still lives on."
The next name to be added was Elmer Vaught, Sr., who died in World War II and whose name was added to the RV
memorial by his widow and his son.
Next to be added was Jonathan Bowling, a Martinsville police officer and fire fighter and son of
Virginia State Trooper Darrell Bowling. Jonathan Bowling was killed in Iraq.
Harris said those names are the first of many that will adorn the RV. He hopes to log in many, many miles over the next few years,
spreading the message of the importance of military sacrifice for American freedom. Harris is also asking people who would like
to add the name of a loved one killed in combat to the Soldier's Spirit. they can do so, by contacting Harris at 540-641-2590.
******* GREAT AMERICANS! *******


Here is also a story done by the Bristol Herald Courier
RADFORD- Gary Harris turns a lot of heads as he spins his wheels. People stare. Some even tell stories-and start to cry-as his motor
home, a 1975 Superior, rolls past in parades.
He calls this vehicle " A Soldier's Spirit." The lifelong Radford resident bought the camper three years ago.
About a year later, Harris not only repainted the camper, but turned it into a moving tribute that can move people-emotionally.
"Everybody who walks by will either stop, look or read or tell their stories," Harris said.
" There's a lot of veterans out there that probably don't advertise what they've done or where they've been or what they saw. A lot
of them want to forget.
" Some of them will talk. I found out that some of your war veterans will talk to another war veteran and talk about things that he
probably wouldn't even tell his wife."
Harris, 62, doesn't mind talking about his own experiences in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War-especially when it comes to
Steve Traynor, his best friend.
The young men served together in the 199th Light Infantry Brigade. "I could sit here for hours," Harris said, smiling, " and tell you
about the fun that we had."
That fun ended in 1970, Traynor lost his life during a mortar attack. "And, in the confusion, "Harris said, " a vehicle hit him when he
was running for cover, and he had a head wound. I was with him when he died."
Today, still, Harris keeps rolling in "A Soldier's Spirit." In 2004, Harris had Traynor's name painted on the sides of the motor home
as part of two colorful murals.
" I always wanted to do something to remember him," Harris said." And that just came to my mind." Then, the idea grew.
Harris added the names of about a dozen more veterans, and he began a scrapbook so people could record their thoughts about
lost loved ones.
"Now, when I ride, I don't feel like I'm alone," Harris said, "because I've got the spirit of all those guys' names with me. They were
all soldiers. And they were all doing what they believed in."
Often, Harris uses his custom motor home on camping trips. Last summer, during one such venture to the Great Smoky
Mountains, Harris met Ike Mumpower, a businessman from Bristol Virginia.
Mumpower, 51, was so moved by Harris's tribute to fallen friends that he wrote a song called "Now A Soldiers' Spirit" and posted a
recording of it on the Internet.
" He was doing something that I thought a lot of, "Mumpower said. On that same venture, Harris drove " A Soldier's Spirit" past
thousands of people at a Fourth of July parade in Gatlinburg, Tenn.
Harris has also recently participated in parades at Floyd and Radford. "You'll see guys saluting, little kids waving, " Harris said.
"I've had some people want to give me a donation for gas." But Harris won't accept donations.
He figured running this motor home was "my biggest hobby." Then he added, "Hobby might not be the right word. It's just something
that I wanted to do for my friend." (276) 669-2181
TO HEAR "Now A Soldier's Spirit" by Ike Mumpower, visit
TO SEE "A Soldier's Spirit."