CALCUTTA - St. Clair Township resident Dale Hammon has gone to great lengths to honor those who served our country-18 feet to be exact. That's the length of the restored Vietnam War era aluminum air boat into which he and others put countless hours of hard work and care. The meticulously recreated air boat was the target of vandalism and theft sometime last weekend when a replica machine gun was stolen from the water craft at his home on St. Clair Avenue.
"To me, it's like stealing off of a monument or a grave," said Hammon. "It's about honoring those who served, especially those that never came back home."
Hammon went to painstaking lengths to bring the air boat, which was used in Vietnam, back to the condition it was in 1968 when it was part of the so-called "Brown Water Navy," patrolling the rivers and tributaries of the Mekong Delta. This included outfitting it with period-correct weapons such as grenades, a bazooka, and a M60 machine gun. The grenades and the bazooka are real but have been disabled so they are no longer capable of firing. The M60 is an airsoft replica, recreated to bear an uncanny resemblance to the real thing.
"It's built right down to a "T" of a real M-60," said Hammon.
The M-60 looks so real that it prompted the ATF to contact Hammon to verify that it is in fact a replica and take down the serial number. It cost Hammon $300 to procure the authentic looking recreation machine gun. He says it would likely cost him about $1,500 to get another reproduction M-60 and install it in a way that would prevent it from being stolen again. This is money Hammon does not have due to medical expenses related to a chronic lung illness he has.
He notes that when the thieves removed the machine gun from the boat, they did so forcibly by breaking the mount on which it sat. He marvels at how anybody could be so disrespectful toward some thing meant as a tribute to veterans and worries that the replica gun could be used in other criminal acts.
However, at the end of the day, he says he just wants the replica machine gun returned so he can resume taking the air boat around to parades and veteran's events and giving veteran's rides - all of which he does free of charge. He said he hopes that whoever has taken the replica gun will consider returning it to his home or to a neutral location, no questions asked.
"It's not about being vindictive or getting even," said Hammon. "It's about doing the right thing."