Railroad: Tanks for your support

D&SNG seeks city’s help to obtain military vehicle to recognize vets

Durango wants a tank, but a fighter jet or helicopter would be welcome, too.

City officials don’t fear a North Korean invasion, as dramatized in the new movie “Red Dawn,” but have joked privately that a tank would be useful for suppressing the Occupy Movement or a zombie march on Halloween.

Rather, the city is applying to the U.S. Army Life Cycle Management Program in Warren, Mich., for a retired combat track vehicle on behalf of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum, which would put it on display outdoors with flags and a historical marker.

The front row of City Council Chambers was filled with veterans of Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam and regional recruiting offices Tuesday night as the councilors approved a motion for an application for the tank. Only the Navy lacked a representative.

Al Harper, a U.S. Air Force captain during Vietnam and chief executive of the railroad, said the museum tank was not intended to glorify war, but to remind the public of the sacrifices made by the armed services, especially because so few people have family or a personal connection to the military.

“Our museum is free and gets over 100,000 visitors,” Harper said. “We thought it would be a great place for recognition.”

Harper would pay for all the expenses associated with acquiring a tank but asked for the city’s aid because he understood from military contacts that it would boost the application if the city made the formal request.

He recognized it was unusual.

“I never had any idea how difficult it was to get a tank or a Huey helicopter or anything,” Harper told the council. The application process is a “long, drawn-out affair, which includes GPS readings of where it will be and so forth.”

There was confusion about whether a retired military vehicle could be displayed on private property, but Harper said the city would have an easier time getting a waiver for its placement on railroad grounds.

While the request is nominally for a tank, the military would donate whatever equipment was available so the city conceivably could wind up with a “Harrier jet,” too, Harper said.

The donated equipment would be here on “loan” because it could always be “called up for active duty, so to speak,” Harper said.

Some might wonder why a railroad museum would want a tank, but Harper clarified that the museum’s purpose is to educate the public about the impact of the railroad on the community.

Many are unaware of the local railroad’s role during World War II, such as transporting troops and uranium for the atomic bombs, Harper said.

“More than half of all the locomotives that served this railroad were sent to Alaska to support the war effort,” he said. “A lot of people are not aware of that.”

A museum donation of miniature military figures from the Revolutionary War to the present era sparked the idea for getting a bigger, outdoor display of a combat vehicle for the “wow factor,” Harper said.

He recognized there is a “long waiting list” for a retired tank.

“Frankly, it may never happen, but unless you try, it will never happen,” he said.

jhaug@durangoherald.com

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