By Staff Sgt. Michael J Pryor (82d Airborne)September 22, 2009
FORT BRAGG, N.C. -- Thomas Barbieri loves it when people ask him about the World War II replica motorcycle he built, because it gives him a chance to talk about his son, T.J.
Barbieri and his sons Stephen, Matt, and David painstakingly assembled the bike over nine months as a way to pay tribute to the second oldest Barbieri boy, T.J., who was killed in Iraq in August, 2006, at the age of 24.
"When you lose someone, you always want to tell their story," Barbieri said. "When people see the bike, they start asking questions and I get to tell them about T.J."
From an early age, Thomas J. "T.J." Barbieri was always interested in military history, his father said. That interest eventually led him to enlist in the Army and become a Paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division. At the time of his death, he was a Specialist with the 1st Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team.
Being a Soldier was something he loved doing, said his father. "He considered (his unit) a second family," Thomas Barbieri said.
T.J. was awarded the Silver Star for his actions during the engagement that cost him his life. According to the citation, he exposed himself in full view of the enemy in order to rescue his platoon sergeant and others trapped in the kill zone of an ambush. T.J. killed one enemy fighter and was still shooting his weapon even as he was struck down by enemy fire.
"He always talked about being a hero, and that's what he was," said his mother, Carolann Barbieri. "That's how he died, a hero."
Since T.J.'s death, his family has stayed in touch with members of his unit and become increasingly involved in programs that help wounded veterans at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, not far from the family home in Gaithersburg, Md.
Eventually, the Barbieris decided they wanted to do something as a family that would be a lasting testament to T.J. Given T.J.'s lifelong interest in the military and WWII history, they decided that recreating a WWII Army motorcycle would be a fitting tribute.
"We thought it would be a nice family project to build it in tribute to him," Thomas Barbieri said.
To replicate the WWII-era Harley Davidson WLA bike, Thomas Barbieri and his three sons took a modern Harley and stripped it down. They modified some parts of the bike and replicated others to give it the look of a motorcycle from 65 years ago.
"We tried to recreate a bike as close as possible to what a WLA bike actually looked like," Barbieri said.
When it was done, the Barbieris unveiled it for the first time for some of the Soldiers at Walter Reed.
"The response was really cool," Barbieri said. "The Soldiers seemed to love it."
For the Barbieris, the bike was a labor of love, and they have been compensated beyond measure for the time and effort that went into it.
"There was a tremendous sense of gratification that we were doing something in remembrance of him," Thomas Barbieri said.