Hundreds made their way to a Van Buren train yard on Wednesday to enjoy Union Pacific’s tribute to men and women in the armed services and those who have served.
The “Spirit of America” locomotive No. 1943 is the 16th commemorative locomotive introduced in the 155-year-old Union Pacific history.
Riding the train into Van Buren were Mayor Bob Freeman and Adjutant Matthew Hicks of the Robert Jack Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1322.
Freeman thanked Union Pacific for the tribute and for its history with the City of Van Buren.
“I grew up three blocks from the music coming from the train yard,” Freeman said. “I have returned to that house where trains will lull you to sleep at night.”
Hicks said the locomotive is an “awesome display that shows Union Pacific’s gratitude to the million of men and women in our armed forces who, even today, are fighting in places many people don’t want to think about, and are our final protection against those who wish us ill.”
He pointed out the railroad has always been a part of the history of Van Buren as has the military.
“In the cold days of December in 1942, over 1,100 men walked these rails, training to be engineers, switchmen, conductors and repairmen to operate the massive task of moving men, equipment and supplies throughout Europe during World War II,” Hicks said.
He said the veterans of Robert Jack VFW Post 1322, the oldest post in Arkansas, is comprised of generations of those soldiers, airmen, sailors and marines.
“Our oldest member is 97 and youngest is 24, many of whom are here today,” Hicks said. “We all chose to belong to the greatest military on the planet. Though many of us have lived to see the next day and advance in years to the point our bodies are not what they once were, we would go back and do it all over again for we love this country that has given so much for us.”
Created in collaboration with Union Pacific veterans, the locomotive illustrates the railroad’s connection to the thousands of veterans who helped build America through the centuries, according to Brandon Morris of Union Pacific.
“For 150 years, tens of thousands of America’s veterans have found a second career at Union Pacific,” Morris said. “They have helped to build the railroad and together we are building America. Today, more than one-fifth of our employees have military experience and many are still active in the national guard or reserves.”
He said the locomotive is a salute to the service of all of America’s active service members and veterans.
“But, it is not just a show horse,” Morris said. “It will be a work horse. We are using it today in special service and it has a few more special stops over the next few weeks. But within a few months, it will be hauling America’s goods across our network every day. It will be fulfilling our mission of Building America.”
Every detail in The Spirit’s trade dress incorporates a piece of each U.S. armed forces branch.
The Spirit’s front is symbolic of Air Force Silver, and the blue stripe is a reflection of the former Strategic Air Command’s “nose sash.”
The lettering inside the sash is the original handdrawn font used on the B-17.
It is followed by the Coast Guard’s “Racing Stripe” and the Navy’s Battleship Gray, which frames Union Pacific’s traditional American flag. The military camouflage is a nod to the Army and Marines.
As the train passes by, the final message on the tail is dedicated to U.S. prisoners of war and those missing in action, featuring the POW/MIA symbol and its motto, You Are Not Forgotten.
“Thousands of people will see this locomotive as it passes through their towns,” Morris said. “When it passes, we hope that they take a moment to reflect on the service of our military. And, we hope that the thousands of military personnel and veterans who have protected and defended our nation find this to be a fitting tribute.”