Captain Bruce Hays (Wyoming National Guard) was a remarkable man, by all accounts. He was dedicated to his wife and children, to his community, and to his nation. Like many of our fine military personnel, when duty called, he stepped up. That was no less the case than when he was chosen for an elite group to go to Afghanistan, 16 people in all. And that was where he lost his life.
But that’s not the whole story about Captain Hays. According to this Fox News article, he was also a thoughtful husband, buying for his wife an old 1959 Chevy Apache pickup truck, like the one her daddy had when she was a girl. The plan was for them to restore the old pickup together. But work, kids (2 of their own, and 3 from his wife, Terry’s previous marriage), Terry’s bought with cancer, it made that dream unrealistic. (Photo credit: Hagerty)
So, they made a decision:
[snip] Finally, after six years of saving, the Hays had managed to set aside enough cash to have the truck professionally restored. Of course, it wouldn’t be the same as fixing it up themselves, but they could begin to enjoy it with their children, just as Terry’s parents had done with her and her brothers. So Bruce found a Cheyenne mechanic with a good-looking portfolio and paid him $17,000 to do the job.
In 2008, Bruce received word that a fellow officer, one he didn’t know but who was well aware of his stellar reputation, had personally requested that he join a 16-man combat advisory team bound for Afghanistan. Bruce proudly accepted, saying he wanted to fulfill a promise that our country made to the Afghan people, and Terry proudly supported her husband’s decision. She certainly understood why he was selected.
“Bruce meant so much to so many people,” she said. “His achievements as a man and a soldier were impressive. He commanded three different batteries. That’s unheard of. But he was so modest, so selfless. He was just doing what he thought was right.”
In May of that year, a week before Bruce’s deployment, he received an unsettling phone call about the Apache. According to the Cheyenne District Attorney, the mechanic was nowhere to be found, nor was the money that he’d been paid by the Hays and others. The Apache was left in pieces, and the D.A. said it needed to be claimed or it would be sold to help pay off the mechanic’s debts.[snip]
Can you believe that? That this mechanic ran off with all the money? Just incredible. You can only imagine the impact this had on both Bruce and Terry to get this news, especially since his deployment was imminent. How painful this must have been to them both to get this news.
But then there was the news that would just be catastrophic to Terry and the children: Captain Hays was killed in Afghanistan by a roadside bomb:
[...]The 1959 Chevrolet Apache truck, left in pieces, much like their lives, seemed to be the least of their worries. But as Bruce’s story spread, a plan began to unfold. People who didn’t know each other came together for a common cause. Restoring the Apache seemed to be the perfect way to honor Cpt. Bruce Hays and his ultimate sacrifice. And it would also give his grieving wife and children something to cling to.
So with the help of old friends and new friends – including Col. Raymond Kent, the Wyoming National Guard, Stacey Morton and the “Friends of the 133rd,” Kent Stevinson, WyoTech automotive students and staff, Koop Transport Co. and countless others – the truck was completed in late 2011. On Feb. 3, it was delivered to Terry, surrounded by friends and family, escorted to her small New Mexico pecan farm by the Patriot Guard Riders. It was painted dark blue with gold striping at Terry’s request, “like the Army’s Class-A uniform trousers.” And the image of an American flag waved proudly on the tailgate, right next to Bruce’s name.[snip] (Click here to read the rest of this powerful story.)
And here it is, the fulfillment of Captain Hays’ wish for his wife. The restoration of the 1959 Chevrolet Apache, from a bucket of bolts to a fully restored, beautiful truck:
And how did Terry Hays feel about this restored truck? This says it all:
“Sitting in the truck is like having his arms around us, giving us comfort.”
What a great gift this community, a community of people all across the nation, these volunteers, these donors, these students, and fellow soldiers, gave this family. It doesn’t bring back her beloved husband, but it does fulfill his wish for her, a reminder of how very much he loved her and the family. And that is no small thing…
(For more on this story, there is a good report in this video.)