Veteran transports remains of fellow vets to cemeteries in military-themed vehicle

WILMINGTON — His last trip will inevitably come, as everyone’s does.

Until then, Ron Elliott will continue driving his makeshift hearse from funeral home to cemetery.

The 73-year-old Vietnam veteran has transported deceased ex-military members to their final resting place for nearly three decades.

“I’m hoping I can keep it going until the day they drive me,” he said.

The former U.S. Army Specialist 4 estimates he’s made over 500 family-requested runs since around 1990 in his specially outfitted, military-themed Ford F-150 truck,

“(Families) see it the way I do – us veterans, we lay it on the line to keep freedom and we at least deserve to go out in a special way,” Mr. Elliott said.

Trips have come throughout Delaware, and also in nearby Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. A fellow veteran once took the truck to Kentucky for an unexpected pickup and return to the First State for burial.

Ron Elliott

“Me and that truck are almost like one and I don’t want to get rid of something that’s never let me down,” Mr. Elliott said. “It takes me where I need to go and then it gets me home.”

There’s no solicitation of services since Mr. Elliott only volunteers if first asked by a family.

“It’s a special honor to me and I’m glad to be able to look (family members) in the eye and know I was able to take their loved one to their final destination the best way I could,” he said.

According to Mr. Elliott, “”Funeral homes don’t really like me because they lose $800 for every transfer I make.

“I provide it for free because it’s the last ride for those brothers and sisters of mine.”

The Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 83 member is regularly offered money to drive, but won’t hear of it. Funding comes out of his own pocket and donations of services such as the ongoing tuneup provided by a Wilmington area garage (the 2000 vehicle has 150,000-plus miles on it), he said.

“Money is a bad thing to offer me and some people leave scratching their head,” Mr. Elliott said. “I just want to know it’s coming from the heart because that’s my brother or sister and for no other reason than that.”

Said Frances, his wife of 45 years, “It’s rough. We’re on Social Security but we manage. God provides.”

The names First State veterans felled in past armed conflicts worldwide are etched on the Ford’s cab area and sides.

Looking ahead, an illustration of Jesus with his arms open and seemingly gathering all soldiers into a cloud with a light on the hood is upcoming.

“It’s going to be a sight to see,” Mr. Elliott said. “People won’t miss that coming down the highway.”

The service is billed as “Veteran’s Last Tribute” and Mr. Elliott can be reached at 229-6870. He also speaks about his military and war experience and attends public events.

Military veterans are currently on a fundraising campaign to help replace Mr. Elliott’s vehicle. Tax deductible donations can be made at any M&T Bank branch with checks made out to “A Veterans Dream.” A GoFundMe page is also available or checks made out to ‘A Veterans Dream” with for deposit only written on the back and EIN #83-1170104 in the memo can be mailed to MSgt. Mitchell Gauge, 1372 Alley Mill Road, Clayton, DE. 19938.

Joining the Army

The day Mr. Elliott turned 18 in 1965, he left his Elsmere home and enlisted in the Army. He served three years, including a first assignment to the Dominican Republic as part of the 82nd Airborne Division. Vietnam followed until he was called home a month and a half early to be with his ailing father.

“There wasn’t a whole lot of happiness those three years in the military, you spend so much time trying to stay alive,” Mr. Elliott said.

He was pelted by a tomato on an airport tarmac upon returning home by protesters.

“It wasn’t a popular war as far as the people here, but if my country calls me to fight for them I’m going to do just that,” Mr. Elliott said. “We suck up all the freedom and have to pay for it somehow.

“That’s the way it is with life, you’ve just got to pick it and live it the best you can.”

Back home, Mr. Elliott said he tried to go unnoticed for the first year. Eventually he married and had two daughters, and began on a career as a mechanic.

The seed to assist fallen veterans families came as he left the Army.

“I’ve seen it from the time that I got home – troops brought home dead were transferred in black or white hearses.

“I said to myself ‘This isn’t right, they deserve better than that.’ “

 

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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