NEWS | July 13, 2021

VNG Soldiers move historic M84 to Richmond for restoration, display

By Mike Vrabel | Virginia National Guard Public Affairs Office

Virginia National Guard Soldiers assigned to the G4 Maintenance Assistance and Instruction Team moved a historic M84 self-propelled 4.2 mortar carrier June 25, 2021, from the Charlottesville Readiness Center to the VNG Sergeant Bob Slaughter Headquarters at Defense Supply Center Richmond, Virginia. 

Permanently displayed at its new home, the M84 will be restored and preserved by a group of retired volunteers called the Friends of the Guard. 

The M84, a vehicle used by the U.S. Army in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, spent more than 40 years at its previous home, according to retired Chief Warrant Officer 4 Al Barnes, Virginia National Guard command historian. 

“This M84 was at the Charlottesville Armory at least from 1980 and maybe earlier,” said Barnes. “It has a plaque on the side indicating that it was dedicated to the Monticello Guards and that group of Soldiers painted it in May 1980 to its current camouflage appearance.”

This vehicle’s history prior to being on display in Charlottesville is a little less clear. 

“This vehicle was probably assigned to the National Guard when the Active Army received their M113s,” said Barnes. 

The M84 mortar carrier was built on the M59 armored personnel carrier body. It carried a crew of six Soldiers, including a driver, a track commander and a four-Soldier mortar crew. Barnes said the M84 and M59 vehicles were eventually replaced by the smaller M113 family of vehicles. 

The size and age of the Charlottesville vehicle created a challenge for the team of Soldiers charged with its safe transport to Richmond. 

“The parking lot at Charlottesville armory was tight to move around in,” said Maj. Michael J. Hurley, the acting Deputy State Maintenance Manager. “The team had to remove two parking slabs to allow them to pull the trailer into the grass and maneuver it for loading. Since the M84 had been static for so long, reconnaissance was required to ensure that the piece was stable, safe for movement and would roll free.”

The MAIT Soldiers, who also work full-time at the MATES facility, were able to load the historic vehicle and safely transport, coordinating with state authorities for the movement using a tractor and trailer borrowed from the Powhatan-based 180th Engineer Company, 276th Engineer Battalion, 329th Regional Support Group. 

“It just took a little more planning and coordination. The team chief worked with the 180th to utilize their tractor and trailer,” said Hurley.  “The team requested and received two vans from transportation to use. Additionally, the MAIT Team coordinated with DMC to get a state haul permit from Virginia and to acquire signs and flags for the load. The team also had to coordinate with civilian personnel to limit damage to the lawn at DSCR.”

Once at headquarters, the MAIT Soldiers positioned the trailer carrying the M84 and carefully lowered it onto a concrete pad, where it will be restored and preserved by the FOG Men, a group of retirees and veterans, most of whom knew each other from working together at the Combined Arms Support Command at Fort Lee, Virginia. 

“The FOG will be restoring it to its original 1960s solid green appearance,” said Barnes. “It will require significant work especially on the top where there is a lot of rust that will need to be removed and then primed.”

The process will be a lengthy one for the group, which generally meets once a week to work on restoration projects on VNG artifacts. 

“This is a slow process because there are many exhaust grills which will need to be scraped and cleaned. The area around the two turrets will also require a lot of rust removal,” said Barnes. “All of the road wheels have significant rust due to their being concave in shape and rain water was allowed to sit in them. Just as we did for the Duster and the Bulldog, we will drill a drain hole in each roadwheel to allow the water to seep out rather than stay trapped in the wheel. The side curtains over the track and roadwheels are a very heavy rubber and we will have to remove the paint from them and restore to their original appearance. 

“I would think that, with the FoG working one a day a week, it will be several months before the restoration is complete. We will also clean out as much rust, flaked paint and gunk from the inside of the track.”

The M84’s permanent display spot is next to a series of other artifacts on one side of the headquarters building, including a historic M42 Duster, a tracked, self-propelled 40mm anti-aircraft gun. Other artifacts include a 155-millimeter short-barrel howitzer and a 40-millimeter Bofors anti-aircraft gun. Those will be joined in the near future by a World War II-era M4A3E8 Sherman tank.

In the front of the headquarters, there are other artifacts on display, including a M41 Walker Bulldog tank, a M101A1 105mm light howitzer, an F-84 Thunderstreak fighter and reconnaissance jet and a Bell UH-1H Iroquois helicopter, better known as a “Huey.”

The FOG Men began their restoration efforts of VNG artifacts in April of 2019. The members include two former Ordnance Corps colonels, a Transportation Corps colonel, a Medical Service Corps colonel, an Aviation major, a combat engineer NCO, a military intelligence NCO, a Navy and Army chief warrant officer 4, an Army command sergeant major and an Army master sergeant. Together they include two Vietnam veterans, three Desert Storm veterans and an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran. They also include three Defense Language Institute graduates and three former CASCOM directors. Altogether the group represents more than 300 years of U.S. military service. They generally meet once a week in Richmond to work on restoring artifacts. 

“The willingness of these volunteers to work on these pieces of equipment in all sort of weather is pretty inspiring when you consider that they are donating their time and efforts to support the Virginia National Guard Historical Foundation,” said Barnes.