RICHMOND, Va,. –
Thanks to the hard work of the Virginia National Guard History Program and a group of volunteers, the VNG Sergeant Bob Slaughter Headquarters at Defense Supply Center Richmond, Virginia, is home to several new historic artifacts on permanent display.
Retired Chief Warrant Officer 4 Al Barnes, the VNG command historian, and a group of retired volunteers known as the Friends of the Guard, or FOG Men, have been painstakingly restoring and preserving the artifacts, including an M84 mortar track.
The M84 sat for years outside of the Charlottesville Readiness Center and was transported to the headquarters building in July 2021 thanks to Soldiers assigned to the G4 Maintenance Assistance and Instruction Team. From there the FOG Men have been hard at work scraping rust and painting the tracked vehicle on its concrete pad outside of the headquarters building. A commemorative plaque on the side of the M84 dedicated it to the “Monticello Guards.”
“When completely refurbished and repainted to its original early 1960s appearance, the plaques will be re-attached to the vehicle,” said Barnes.
Next to the M84 is another new member of the VNG macro artifacts collection, an M4A3E8 Sherman Tank, which dates to 1944. Barnes explained that the “Easy 8” Sherman is, based on the serial number, one of the first 20% of that particular model to be manufactured and deployed to Europe during World War II.
“This tank came originally from the Army historical artifact storage site at Aniston and received its initial stabilization by Maneuver Area Training Equipment Site personnel at Fort Pickett,” said Barnes, referring to the Aniston Army Depot in Bynum, Alabama. “It was moved to the JFHQ where it is receiving its refurbishing by the volunteers. When completed, the tank will be tac-marked to the 743rd Tank Battalion, the armored unit most closely associated with the 29th Infantry Division during the D-Day landings and the subsequent European campaigns in World War II.”
The newest artifact on display also dates back to the World War II era. A DUKW, also known as a Duck, was delivered Nov. 17, 2021, to JFHQ from MATES, where, like the Sherman, it received its initial stabilization. Barnes explained the Duck is a six-wheel-drive amphibious modification of the 2.5-ton trucks used by the U.S. military at the time.
“Along with the Sherman, the Jeep, and the C47 airplane, the Duck is one of the iconic vehicles of the Second World War and remained in service throughout the world, some as late as 2012,” said Barnes. “Many others now serve as tourist attractions for city harbor rides.”
The newly-delivered DUKW, like the Sherman, originated at Aniston. The FOG Men will finish the preservation efforts at JFHQ, where it will be dedicated to the 111th Field Artillery Battalion, who used similar Ducks during the D-Day invasion in 1944.
While these historic vehicles command attention outside the headquarters building, another artifact is making its presence known just inside. In one of the main stairwells, a Radio-Controlled Miniature Aerial Target hangs from the ceiling while a large-scale photo of Soldiers appears to be attempting to shoot the miniature unmanned aircraft down.
Barnes explained the aerial target was used by Virginia National Guard air defense artillery units, which used them to practice shooting Stingers.
“This one was recovered from the Portsmouth Armory and reconstructed by the FOG volunteers,” said Barnes. “This included reassembling, rebuilding the wooden propeller, patching holes, painting it back to its original Soviet F-25 ‘Frogfoot’ camouflage, and with the help of the JFHQ maintenance crew, mounting it in the hallway.
“Because they are made of fiberglass the life expectancy was very short,” added Barnes. “As you can see there is no landing gear so the controller would try to bring them in slowly and gently.”
The VNG Soldiers in the photo mural, who appear to be taking aim at the aircraft, were assigned to the Portsmouth-based 3rd Battalion, 111th Air Defense Artillery Regiment.
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.