In 1967, Herbert Delbridge led his platoon in numerous battles during the Vietnam War. When Delbridge returned home after fighting for nine months, the Marine hoped for a warm welcome. Instead, Delbridge remembers he was spat on and treated poorly.
“Vietnam [veterans] had no recognition coming home,” he said.
But now, Delbridge hopes to give his fellow war veterans and Purple Heart recipients the welcome home he believes they deserve for what they endured during battle.
Delbridge hired Mechanicsville artist, Hayden Miller, to free-hand airbrush a tribute to all war veterans on a 1983 firetruck — a four-month project — which the veteran hopes to feature at parades.
“I just feel like we should let them ride and have their eyes gleam,” Delbridge said.
All sectors of the military are represented on the vehicle including the Army, Navy, “Nurse Corps” and Marines and each scene on the firetruck tell a story, Delbridge said, including his own.
Times were rough during that time. Delbridge said they were fighting in full gear and armor in 120-degree weather. One day, on July 8 in 1967, 20 of the individuals in Delbridge’s platoon were wounded, a battle depicted in one of the firetruck’s scenes — four wounded Marines lying on beds being awarded Purple Hearts for their service. That same week of battles, Delbridge lost five of his men. Each veteran lost something or someone during that war and Delbridge hopes each image and the firetruck as a whole will recognize those individuals.
Another scene pictured on the truck shows a portrait of George Washington and a Purple Heart medal, which he established in 1782. Initially, the medal recognized individuals who fought bravely during combat, but over time, it was changed to honor those who were injured or died during battle.Delbridge is among those ranks. During the Vietnam War, he was shot twice.
To remember and recognize the fallen, once scene at the truck’s rear is a painting of “the soldiers’ cross, ” two guns pointed down against a wall adorned with dog tags and helmets, a pair of boots situated on the side, signifying a lost life.
Every image on the truck has some sort of meaning from the flag poles painted like bamboo sticks to the painted sandbags on the inside walls of the truck bed. Delbridge has been working on this idea for the past year and just a few weeks ago, the truck came out of the shop completed, bringing his concept to fruition.
“He’s very proud of it,” said Delbridge’s wife, Linda.
Monday, a number of Purple Heart recipients and veterans rode in the patriotic firetruck in the annual Sandston Memorial Day parade.
“Now if you just want to see their eyes just gleam riding in this thing with the public — that’s all they want to do,” Delbridge said. “That’d be their welcome home, so we’re working on that.”
Delbridge hopes that just a few firetruck rides during parades will help give these veterans a proper “welcome home” that they did not get at the war’s end.