The retired military Jeeps and trucks tucked away in a hangar at the Marathon airport won't be ready for the next war. But if the Monroe Marauders have their way, these old machines could play a role in helping the community cope with the aftermath of a hurricane or another disaster.
The Marauders are military vehicle enthusiasts who share a desire to preserve old military vehicles and the memories of fallen soldiers. Members of the nonprofit club also hope to provide assistance to authorities through the CERT program, an acronym for Community Emergency Response Team. CERT trains community members on basic disaster response skills, such as light search and rescue, and fire safety.
"Some of the guys have already received training in CERT from the city of Key West," said Marauders President Tony Daiuto. "Our team wants to be able to provide any assistance that we can, should we ever be in a position to help. At the same time, we want to keep the memories of those who served our country in war. I'd like to think that we're a rolling tribute to all the fallen, as well as the veterans."
Since its founding late last year, club members have been active in the community by taking part in such events as the Veterans Day parade, the Blue Angels air show, and the Key West Pride Parade. In 2010, a Marauders vehicle pulled the winning float in the Fantasy Fest parade, and many members and their vehicles have become regular fixtures at meetings of the Southern Most Car Club.
Together, the Marauders have managed to assemble an impressive fleet of vintage vehicles.
There's former Sheriff Rick Roth's 1942 Ford GPW Jeep, which is possibly the oldest ride in the club. Then there's Virginia Mason's 1969 Brunswick Corp. "Mule," a small platform truck designed to carry an M40 105 mm recoilless rifle.
Club Vice President Myke McCoy is the proud owner of a modified 1975 AM General 5-ton truck. In keeping with the club's emphasis on remembering those who have served in the military, McCoy's rig is dedicated in honor of his childhood friend Sgt. Gerald Lee Evans, who was killed in Quang Tin Province, South Vietnam, in 1971 at the age of 19.
Unlike Evans, neither McCoy nor many of the club's dozen or so members serve in the military. It's not a requirement for membership. Instead, the club's board stresses present-day service to the community, should it be needed, and the teamwork that makes the club work.
"This is not a top-down organization," Daiuto said. "It's very much a group effort with everything we do. What unites us is a love of old military vehicles, and the desire to help the community, as well as the determination to honor the memory of those who served and made the ultimate sacrifice for their country."
Besides encouraging the restoration of old military vehicles, and sharing the history of these machines with the community, club members are also making a point of experimenting with alternative fuel sources, such as discarded food oils. Nearly all the engines in club vehicles are able to burn more than one type of fuel, making them more efficient, and potentially leaving a smaller carbon footprint.
"I think all of them, except for the gasoline Jeeps, can run on alternative fuels," McCoy said. "I've been using other fuel sources since 1998."
Both McCoy and Roth were early members of the Marauders. They are thoroughly enjoying the camaraderie fostered by the club.
"It's really just a lot of fun," McCoy said. "We're associated with all the VFW chapters, and try to help them out with our vehicles in parades. We'll help any veterans organization that needs us. We also have a great time at our monthly meetings."
Roth, whose Navy career brought him to Key West in the late 1950s, became a member after receiving a call from Daiuto regarding his Jeep.
"I think the club is a great idea," Roth said. "Not only are they interested in making themselves available for hurricane recovery, but they're also preserving these wonderful old military vehicles. I think it's really nice."
Like most clubs, the Marauders are always looking for more members, as well as donations to help keep the vehicles running. The club sells T-shirts on its website at http://monroemarauders.com/.
The new year will find the club participating in the Wounded Warrior Project on Jan. 10 at the Marathon Fire Rescue Station.
The group's next regular monthly meeting will be held at 5 p.m. Jan. 12 at Springers Bar and Grill on Big Pine Key.
Other events will be announced on the website as they are confirmed.