WEST COVINA, Calif. - Restoring and showing classic cars is a popular hobby in Southern California.
One particular customized classic is shown off with a special purpose: The gorgeous 1956 Chevy is a rolling tribute to those who served and sacrificed.
"I wanted to do something to remind everybody that when I take the car out, to car shows, to remind them of our veterans. Freedom isn't free," said Lloyd Johnson, a USMC veteran and longtime West Covina resident.
The custom Chevy makes appearances at local car shows and military events. With its huge U.S. and Marine Corps flags waving from the rear bumper, it was noticed even way up in the air by our AIR7 HD reporter J.T. Alpaugh. The car was part of the procession for Ruben Velasco, a La Puente Marine who was killed in a tragic air crash off the coast of Australia last month.
Up close, Johnson's car is customized with amazing details to honor all fallen military personnel. Under the hood, several airbrushed murals surround the 327 V8 engine.
In the trunk, more airbrushed tribute artwork, plus a carefully crafted diorama depicting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. On it are names of military members from the east San Gabriel Valley. That tribute sometimes connects with people who see it.
Johnson said he was at a car show and a woman came up to him in tears because her brother's name was on the wall in his truck.
"I told her this is what it's about," he said.
As a young Marine, Johnson was wounded in Vietnam and received the Purple Heart. He then had a long career as an iron worker and is more recently a cancer survivor.
He's still serving, currently as a member of the West Covina City Council. He also works as a veterans advocate, particularly trying to help homeless veterans.
You might be able to see the purple and white 1956 Chevy up close, as he takes the one-of-a-kind military tribute to as many car shows as he can. People love to tell him stories about their own military service or that of their loved ones. He never tires of people gazing at the car, or taking pictures of it.
He does have one request of the Chevy's admirers, however.
"The best thing you can do for a veteran is to go up and say, 'Thank you for your service,'" Johnson said.