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Warbird - One Parking Professionalís Way to Honor Combat Veterans

November, 2019

RJ Heredia

While living in Charleston, South Carolina and working as a technician for Carolina Time Parking Group, I was also an airbrush artist and painter. I often expressed my enjoyment for this through custom painting of motorcycles. At times, I would contribute my talents to airbrushing on cars, trucks and even boats. One of the biggest reasons I found pleasure in the art was the impact it had for people. The happiness people derived from my work gave me a sense of satisfaction. 


We should focus our efforts on better helping these great men and women transition back
to civilian life.


In the summer of 2012, I wanted to use my art to create awareness for veterans. I wanted the focus to be on the unemployment and homelessness issues that many veterans face when coming home from deployments. I felt strongly that, with my love of cars and passion for art, I could create something that not only could connect people in a unique way, but also could help generate much needed awareness for veterans.


The idea started to take shape in the form of a sketch - an unknown car with a custom-built body fully painted with a mural. The graphics and design were inspired by WWII fighter planes. My grandfather, Bruce DeCosta, served in the U.S. Navy, and I pulled inspiration from that. 


 In January 2013, after searching for a few months, I found the perfect donor car for this project: a 1987 Pontiac Trans Am GTA. With the car identified and the beginnings of a mural sketched, I officially had hit the ground running and named the project “The WARBIRD: Honoring Veterans of War.”


I designed the paint scheme and the body features to transform the appearance of the original Trans Am into something that would have the look and feel of a fighter jet. Over the course of the next year, I dedicated time to hand craft the WARBIRD’s one-of-a-kind widebody. I remade every inch of the car, leaving only the roof as original. 


With the body constructed and fully finished, the WARBIRD was ready for paint. The mural began with a detailed graphic background, which resembled the look of a fighter plane returning from war. The background created the weathered, worn and damaged look along with the sheet metal and rivet effect of the WWII fighter planes.


The driver side became a mural of veterans from all branches of the military, including the U.S. Navy, Marines, Airforce and Army. I wanted this part of the mural to represent veterans and their families. I desired to bring attention to the effects and possible devastation of leaving house and home and returning from war a changed person. I wanted to remind people of the roles veterans play at home within their families, such as mothers and fathers. 


I painted my grandfather along with the U.S.S Yorktown, the ship Bruce DeCosta served on during his time in the Navy. I painted Joy Johnson, who was photographed with her daughter just before leaving to serve in the Gulf War. I also featured the great ACE of WWII, John Lucian Smith, a Colonel who served in the United States Marine Corps with the P-57 Mustang.


Moving to the passenger side of the Trans Am, I depicted the aspect of great sacrifices faced by all veterans after the trials and tribulations of war. I incorporated images of the battlefield and scenes of great dramatic conflict. These are some of the real challenges soldiers face every day while at war.


Ultimately, the goal of this mural was to tell a veteran’s story, to show what the cycle of service can include, and to bring attention to the challenges veterans face serving our country. The challenge caused by being home, going off to war, and then hopefully returning home once again, is profound. 


I wanted to paint and fabricate this story in ways that would create an interest and spark conversations about these specific challenges, which include bringing to light the drastically low employment opportunities and the staggering number of homeless veterans that exist today. I wanted to inspire people, to have people gravitate towards this all-too-sensitive subject. I believe the WARBIRD project will bring people together and begin important discussions. 


Completed in May 2014, the WARBIRD “Honoring Veterans of War” spent nearly the next two years attending local shows and being displayed at a variety of events and locations within South Carolina and Georgia area until March 2016. 


The honor veterans have won for us as a nation should be recognized, and we - as one community and as a country - should focus our efforts on better helping these great men and women transition back to civilian life. 


I am an active member of Veterans in Parking (ViP), a program that offers job opportunities for veterans within the parking industry. We seek to help the low employment rates for veterans with this not-for-profit organization. One way we do this is by traveling to military bases and collecting resumes to match to jobs within the industry. 


Earlier this year, 2019, I created a future WARBIRD design. I look forward to bringing a second project into fruition and keeping alive the story of veterans everywhere. 


RJ Heredia is Branch Manager/Carolina Time & Parking. He can be reached at Robert.heredia@carolinatime.net.



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