All Things Soldier: A Bronco For A Boy

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

In 2007, a brave Marine by the name of Nicholas Walsh fell in Fallujah, leaving behind his wife, two boys and a Bronco. The car was red and tan, and had been the property of Jerry Walsh; he had bought it for Nick before he deployed to Iraq. The plan had always been that it would stay in the family, and it did, stored inside the garage, and never driven. Julie Walsh had the idea of restoring the car and giving it to her son Triston when he turned 16, but the price was not right.
“It was in pretty rough shape,” said Mertz Ford Service Manager Ricky Boyer, 34, of Granite City, Illinois. “It was garage-kept, so it looked pretty good, but there were mechanical problems from it sitting around for so long.”

Enter a whole group of folks from Mertz, which is located in southern Illinois, as well as neighboring automotive suppliers, restoration experts, mechanics, relatives, and people who donated time and money. Some guys worked nights and weekends for free. Mertz Ford had a tow truck come and spirit away the Bronco while Triston was at school. He came home, saw the car was gone, and was really ticked. His mom sweetly told him that she had sold it in order to get him something different, but he gave her the silent treatment for about two weeks.

Meanwhile, the crew replaced the Bronco’s rotors, brake pads, tires, rims, suspension system, and radiator. They did a tune up, rebuilt the intake manifold and rear differential, and shored up the sagging headliner. “We pretty much wanted to touch every nut and bolt on the vehicle because of its age,” said Boyer. “We wanted to make sure it was safe and dependable for him.” Let’s just say the boy had to eat a bit of crow when on his 16th birthday his mom took him “car shopping.”

They walked into the dealership, which was decorated in red, white, and blue, as well as full of people, some of whom Triston recognized. There were also pictures of Nick, as well as his dress uniform. Behind a paper shield was the fully restored Bronco, and at the right moment, it was revealed. It was shiny, it was safe, and it was theirs. Triston teared up, as did several folks, and it was a birthday he will never forget.

Mertz Ford is a 97-year-old family-run car dealership owned by Don and Debbie Mertz. They blessed the Bronco project, as did General Manager Greg Castelli. “It started out as something small, and it just kept growing,” Don Mertz said. “Everybody was chipping in, and our employees agreed to do the work on their own time. I’m so proud of them. It was all for someone who made the ultimate sacrifice.”

Once upon a time there was Fallujah, a fallen Marine, and a Ford. Now there is a legacy of love, and perhaps Triston’s greatest challenge is going to be sharing it with his twelve-year-old younger brother, whose name is Tanner. In any case, may God bless the Mertz team, and may God bless Nick Walsh.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner