Historic M42 Duster on display at JFHQ thanks to volunteer efforts

RICHMOND, Va. — After more than a year of painstaking work by a group of dedicated volunteers, a 1955-dated M42 Duster its now on permanent display outside of the Sgt. Bob Slaughter Headquarters at Defense Supply Center Richmond, Virginia. 

The Duster, a tracked, self-propelled 40mm anti-aircraft gun, was moved into place on a concrete pad Oct. 28, 2020, with help from Virginia National Guard Soldiers assigned to the Maneuver Area Training Equipment Site at Fort Pickett, Virginia. 

The artifact was obtained in early 2019 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 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 group worked on the vehicle in a maintenance area behind the headquarters building, several hundred yards from its permanent display site. The 25-ton vehicle challenged the MATES Soldiers and their equipment as they prepared for and executed the movement, partially because the tracked nature of the Duster meant that it has no steering capability of its own. The Soldiers executed skillful use of winches to steer the Duster as it was loaded and unloaded in its new location. 

“Adding to the complexity of the mission was the nearby presence of a large solar panel field on one side, and the 155mm’s display pad on the other,” said Barnes, referring to a 155mm howitzer the FOG Men also worked to restore and preserve. “Nevertheless, the MATES crew safely carried out the lift and delivery of the Duster to its new home.”

The Duster holds a unique spot in Virginia National Guard history, according to Barnes. 

“The Duster came from the armory in Portsmouth, which used to be 3-111th Air Defense Artillery,” said Barnes. “It’s a 1955-dated M42 Duster. When the mission changed and the Cav took over from the ADA guys, it no longer appealed to them to have an air defense artillery piece on display. So we took it off of their hands.”

The Duster suffered from years of exposure to the elements, an issue compounded by the open nature of the turret on top. So Barnes and his crew of volunteers, most of whom knew each other from working together at the Combined Arms Support Command at Fort Lee, Virginia, worked weekly to scrape and chip away at layers of rust before preserving and painting the relic. 

The FOG Men were assisted by two period field manuals/instructional manuals donated by Chris Christoff, father of Virginia Defense Force Lt. Col. (Va.) Nick Christoff. The manuals helped bring the Duster back to life.

“Restoration of the vehicle is almost complete, lacking only the final touchup and appropriate unit/tactical markings,” said Barnes. “When it and the 155mm howitzer are both finished, they will be dedicated in a ceremony to honor all of Virginia’s Vietnam veterans.”

The M42 Duster was built using the same chassis as the M41 Walker Bulldog tank and is armed with two 40mm antiaircraft guns. Some 3,700 Dusters were made between the 1951 and 1956. Though manufactured too late for most of the Korean War, Dusters saw extensive combat service in Vietnam with Army and Marine Corps units. Originally designed to counter enemy aircraft and helicopters, its relatively light weight and powerful dual-40mm cannons made it a good fit for fixed base defense and convoy support. 

“The Duster received its name from its original design in which its mission was to ‘sweep the skies,’” said Barnes. 

In 2019, starting in April, the FOG Men donated 627 hours of work on the artifacts, a number that will be surpassed this year even 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. 

“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.