For more years than anyone can remember, an old Army tank has been on display at Veterans Memorial Park in Mount Airy — a study in basic gray and greenish-brown, a silent sentinel symbolically guarding the grounds.
While the armored vehicle represents America’s military might, the tank itself has come under attack in recent days — not from heavy artillery or air strikes, but in the form of vandalism with spray paint as the weapon of choice.
The desecration of the tank with illegible words and symbols using white and blue paint has left members of a military group based at Veterans Memorial Park shell-shocked.
“I’ve been here eight years and I’ve never seen this done,” local Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2019 Commander David Raborn said last week while surveying the graffiti-laden tank parked near the front entrance to the park on West Lebanon Street.
The vandalism discovered in recent days is not an isolated incident, but is one of at least seven that have occurred in Mount Airy since late November. Among other high-visibility locations targeted are Blackmon Amphitheatre, Mayberry Mall and the Emily B. Taylor Greenway.
So far police haven’t identified who is responsible.
“We have not made any arrests on the graffiti (incidents),” Capt. Alan Freeman of the Mount Airy Police Department said last week.
“We’re still working it,” Freeman added, “We’re going to have to catch the individuals in the act or catch them on cameras doing the graffiti.”
Freeman believes the same party is responsible for all the recent acts, due to the use of similar wording or symbols at the different locations, but doesn’t believe gang activity is involved.
An act of dishonor
Raborn, 69, a retired member of the U.S. Air Force who is originally from Alabama, said the spray-painting of the Army tank is particularly troubling compared to the other incidents.
“It bothers me (because) this place is called Veterans Memorial Park,” he said, stressing that the word “memorial” refers to deceased military personnel, including those who made the supreme sacrifice in service to their country.
“It’s not the people who are here now — it’s the people who have passed,” he said of the name’s focus on veterans lost rather than their present-day counterparts. “It is to honor the guys that have gone before.”
And the damage to the tank is a slap in the face to those personnel, Raborn believes.
“It’s the desecration of our veterans that have paid,” the VFW commander said of the cost of preserving liberty and democracy and what irks him most about the incident.
“A lot of people have died for the freedoms we take for granted.”
Raborn also bristles at the disrespect shown for Veterans Memorial Park itself, which hosts a number of activities including an annual fiddlers convention and county fair.
“It’s for our community.”
Stepping up security
The tank at Veterans Memorial Park is an M47 Patton model, named after World War II tank commander Gen. George Patton.
Those tanks were produced in the post-war era, about 8,600 altogether. The M47 was the only Patton-series tank that never saw combat while in U.S. service although it was widely used by Cold War allies including NATO countries.
As such equipment was decommissioned over the years, local organizations such as the VFW in Mount Airy have requested it to be put on display.
“The commander has to sign for it (the tank) every year,” Raborn said of himself or others holding that role.
A date for when the tank arrived here was unavailable.
Another question mark surrounds how the graffiti damage to the vehicle will be mitigated.
“I don’t know how much it’s going to cost us to clean it or paint it,” Raborn said of the veterans group. “I’m going to try cleaning it first.”
He is certain of one thing regarding the fallout from the vandalism: “We’re going to step up our security.”
This will include installing a 6-foot fence around the Army tank, thanks to donations of materials and labor by Easter Fencing.
“It’s a shame we have to do it,” Raborn said of preventing hands-on access to the display. “It may deter someone.”
In addition to other information being pursued in the ongoing investigation, police officials are hoping someone will come forward with details about the recent graffiti incidents by calling Mount Airy Crimestoppers at 336-786-4000.
Crimestoppers offers rewards for information leading to arrests and convictions in crimes, which can be submitted anonymously.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.