Soldiers' artwork salvaged from Sand Hill 'starship'
May 12, 2011
- Soldiers painted doors during Infantry training in 2009
- Vietnam vet saves them for son
- Bob Gehricke feared doors would be lost in barracks renovation
FORT BENNING, Ga. - Bob Gehricke has a special gift for his son's birthday this summer: a large skull surrounded by bullet holes painted on a double-door.
While going through Infantry one station unit training in 2009, Jared Gehricke and two battle buddies from 2nd Platoon, B Company, 1st Battalion, 50th Infantry Regiment, completed the rendering on the entrance to their barracks bay at Sand Hill. The Infantrymen moved on after graduation, but the Gehrickes learned last year the entire "starship" faced renovation. No one knew what would become of the doors.
That's when the elder Gehricke, who spent four years in the Navy, including three in Vietnam, made a push to save them.
"I had hopes the Army would've saved these doors to reuse or archive for others to appreciate, but when that was not an option, I asked if we could have them to save and display privately," he said. "I wanted the Army to preserve them someway - I just didn't want to see them thrown away.
"Each unit likes to identify itself in some way. It's a motivational thing for Soldiers. But these guys were accomplished artists, so it's a rarity to have something come out as good as this. The art is quite exquisite."
Gehricke, owner of Gehricke + Mason Architects in Moorpark, Calif., about 50 miles north of Los Angeles, works often with the Army Corps of Engineers building support facilities at military installations. So he asked a Sacramento District contact for help, who put him in touch with Fort Benning by way of the Savannah District.
The request ultimately fell to Chris Reinhardt, the project manager responsible for the "Starship Barracks" renovation on Sand Hill that began in 2010 and continues through 2017.
"I made sure the project engineer on Building 3405 (Gehricke's barracks) and all others involved with the renovation project were aware of the desire to save these doors in particular," he said. "During a pre-proposal site visit by the prospective contractors, I made it a point to walk to these doors and tell each contractor bidding on this job that no matter what, these doors would have to be saved and proceeded to tell them the story behind it."
The doors were set aside until Gehricke could retrieve them.
That opportunity came last month when he attended the Best Ranger Competition. His son-in-law was on a 4th Infantry Division team out of Fort Carson, Colo., while Gehricke himself took part in the "Donor Challenge."
In between the action, he said he went to Sand Hill, met with the contractor, Archer Western, and arranged for the doors to be shipped out by truck. Together, they weigh about 325 pounds.
Gehricke said it's probably not the kind of artwork one might consider for a preservation campaign - the ribbon banner underneath the big skull reads, "2nd Plt. Commandos." But this piece doesn't lack sentimental value, he said.
Jared wasn't the primary artist but helped with some painting after the graphics were laid out. Gehricke can't confirm who his son's battle buddies were but said one was an accomplished tattoo artist. The bottom of the double-door is signed "232 Topai and 212 Demchak."
The doors arrived April 28 in California and they're sitting in Gehricke's office. He plans to surprise Jared for his June 30 birthday.
He said his son was medically discharged last summer. Shortly after graduation at Fort Benning, Jared collapsed on Sand Hill. Since then, he's undergone a series of tests and treatment but is fighting to get back in the Army.
In the meantime, Jared is back in California, where he attends a junior college while working part time.
"I thought this would be a cool thing to do for him," Gehricke said of preserving the doors. "The history behind them, what it brings to my son, means a lot. Those doors mean so much to him on many different levels."
Gehricke said he still harbors "a lot of anger" over how the public viewed service members post-Vietnam, but he's always been a big supporter of the military - and that drove him to see the doors safely returned.
"My biggest hope is to get my son well so he can go back into the Army," he said. "It's about pride of service, knowing that people who go through those portals put their life on the line. When you sign your name at the bottom of that enlistment form, you're putting your life before God and country.
"I did not want to see a bit of history trashed. There's meaning behind everything, and I'm just very sensitive to what our military does. And I appreciate them."