Source: Nick Wagner | Times LeaderThe Freedom Express, a rolling memorial to veterans, made its way through the Back Mountain on Sunday to take part in a veterans celebration at the Dallas American Legion Post 672.
DALLAS — Patriotic music bounced from lane to lane on Memorial Highway. The truck had arrived.
Led by nearly 100 motorcycles that are part of the American Legion Riders, a rolling memorial in honor of the nation’s military veterans was escorted from Interstate 80, up Memorial Highway and to Dallas American Legion Post 672. The legion hosted a chicken barbecue in honor of the truck’s arrival.
It was a parade-like atmosphere as spectators lined up Route 309 to catch a glimpse of the memorial.
The Freedom Express resembles a parade float and is constructed on a flat-bed and pulled by a semi. On the rig, there are memorials made from rifles, dog tags, helmets and boots. Every branch of the U.S. military is portrayed on the rig, with a replica of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the rear.
Gary Gallerie Sr., of Pocono Summit in Monroe County, owns the truck and parades it around the Northeast. He and his son built the truck several years ago and have been touring the country ever since.
“Today proved to me that my family and I are doing the right thing,” Gallerie said. “It means the world to us because we’re trying to teach our young children, and we’re trying to remember those who have fought for our freedoms.”
Gallerie said many people wonder why the truck doesn’t visit large cities throughout the country. His answer always comes down to the intent to serve small towns in America.
“Dallas opened their arms very wide for me today,” Gallerie said. “It was an incredible scene when we pulled off the interstate today, greeting us and escorting us.”
Denise DeLuca, a member of the legion’s Ladies Auxiliary and a resident of Dallas, has a 32-year-old son who is stationed in Riverside, California, in the Marine Corps. DeLuca hasn’t seen her son, Todd Jones, in nearly two years.
“Something like this makes you cry,” she said. “To see all these people, it’s emotional. I’m very proud that they did this.”
Jones, a 2002 graduate of Dallas High School, toured once in Iraq and twice in Afghanistan. He will be going to Okinawa following a trip home in July.
Nancy and Brian Smith, of Emmaus, have been following the Freedom Express for the past several years. In November of 2012, the Smiths lost their son, Joshua, a veteran of Afghanistan, after he committed suicide after battling Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Joshua’s likeness is portrayed on the truck through photos and commemorative memorabilia.
“To us, this is such a heartfelt tribute to our son,” Brian Smith said. “A lot of people don’t realize the impact it has on families when you lose someone from war.”
Joshua, who would be 30 if he were alive today, left behind a daughter and a stepdaughter.
“This helps us because we never want to lose our son’s memory or never forget,” Brian Smith said. “It helps keep our son alive.”
Clarence Michael, a historian for the American Legion, helped organized the event and helped get Freedom Express to come to the area. Michael served in the U.S. Army during the demolition of the Berlin Wall.
“The pictures don’t do this justice,” Michael said. “When you look at it, it really reminds you that freedom is not free. Things like this bring out the patriotism.”
Reach Nick Wagner at 570-991-6406 or on Twitter @Dispatch_Nick.