New artifacts on display soon thanks to volunteer efforts

Maj. Gen. Timothy P Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia, tours the Maneuver Area Training Equipment Site with the Friends of the Guard volunteer group Sept. 23, 2020, at Fort Pickett, Virginia. During the tour, Williams and retired Chief Warrant Officer 4 Al Barnes, the Virginia National Guard command historian, along with the FOG Men, visited with Soldiers working at the MATES facility, including those in the process of restoring and preserving several historical military vehicles. (U.S. National Guard photo by Mike Vrabel)

RICHMOND, Va. — Several new macro artifacts are being readied for permanent display outside of the Sgt. Bob Slaughter Headquarters at Defense Supply Center Richmond, Virginia, including a 1955-dated M42 Duster which has been renovated with volunteer work over the last year. 

The Duster, a self-propelled, open turret anti-aircraft gun, was obtained through the efforts of Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia, and retired Chief Warrant Officer 4 Al Barnes, the Virginia National Guard command historian. It was originally obtained in early 2019, and was restored by Barnes and a group of retirees and veterans Williams has dubbed the Friends of the Guard, or “FOG Men” for short. The group met once a week for more than a year to scrape rust, sand and paint the Duster to get it ready for display. 

The FOG Men are now working on restoring a 155mm howitzer and a 120mm Soviet mortar. Their efforts to preserve these pieces of history has been invaluable, according to Barnes. 

“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. 

With the restoration complete, the Duster will soon be moved to a concrete pad outside of the headquarters building for permanent display. It will join others which have been displayed in front of the headquarters building since it opened in 2018. Existing artifacts include 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.”

“It’s important to preserve and display these pieces of Virginia’s military past because they have come to symbolize much more than just large pieces of iron and steel,” said Barnes. “Vietnam vets love to bring their families and friends to see the M42 Duster and UH-1 Huey helicopter because it gives them a chance to talk about their service.” 

There are several other empty concrete pads next to it, ready for the next wave of artifacts, some of which will be ready soon. 

Among the incoming artifacts to be displayed is a World War II-era M4A3E8 Sherman tank. The Sherman was the widest-used tank model during World War II, and was also used during the Korean War as well. The Sherman was renovated at the Maneuver Area Training Equipment Site at Fort Pickett, Virginia. Once ready for display, this Sherman will be moved to the headquarters building and dedicated to the memory of all American men and women who served during World War II. 

The Soldiers of the MATES facility have also recently helped restore a separate M42 Duster, which is now on display at the State Military Reservation in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Current restoration and preservation projects at MATES include the Sherman and a 1942 Dodge command and reconnaissance car. 

Maj. Gen. Timothy P Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia, sits in a 1942 Dodge command and reconnaissance car being restored in the MATES facility at Fort Pickett, Virginia. (U.S. National Guard photo by Mike Vrabel)

“I am extremely proud of the work that MATES personnel did to restore the Dodge WC Command Car, the M42 Duster and the Sherman tank,” said Maj. Michael Hurley, the MATES superintendent. “Beyond the fact that it showcases some of the capabilities and the talented Soldiers employed at MATES, it also provided us the opportunity to preserve history. Those vehicles will be on display long after we’re gone and we appreciate being allowed to have a hand in memorializing the brave, selfless Soldiers that fought and won World War II.”

Two historic pieces of artillery will also be part of the new display at JFHQ. One is a World War II-era Bofors anti-aircraft gun, also part of the FOG Men restoration efforts. This one was manufactured in 1942, and will be displayed in honor of all Virginians who served during World War II, both at home and overseas. It also honors the men and women of the Virginia National Guard who served in Air Defense Artillery units throughout the Commonwealth. 

The other artillery piece is a 75mm Field Gun Model-1917, more commonly known as a French 75. It’s considered the first modern artillery piece, capable of firing up to 24 rounds per minute. The VNG’s 111th Field Artillery Regiment was equipped with French 75s and was on its way to the front in 1918 when the Armistice was signed. VNG artillery units continued to train with the French 75s into the 1930’s. 

“The French 75mm is incredibly important to the Virginia National Guard as this was the type of cannon which was used by the 111th in World War I and during the years before World War II,” said Barnes. “We were able to get this from the Ordnance Corps training facility. What makes it extra special is that it was manufactured in 1919 and still has the original wooden wheels with iron rims.”

An up-armored Humvee is also being restored for display, as is a 1942 Dodge command and reconnaissance car and an M94 tracked mortar carrier. 

The FOG Men group mostly knew or worked with each other at the Combined Arms Support Command at Fort Lee, Virginia. In 2019, starting in April, the FOG Men donated 627 hours of work on the artifacts, a number that will be surpassed this year in event with COVID precautions in place. 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.