Bruce Hays, a captain in the Wyoming Army National Guard purchased the old truck for his wife, Terry, as an anniversary gift in 2008. The 1959 Chevy Apache pickup held meaning for her. It was the same model her father had once owned and she held fond memories of riding in the truck with him. When Bruce found out the truck was important to Terry, he searched until he found one - because she was important to him.
"We walked outside and he's like, 'look what I found,'" says Terry of the day Bruce presented the truck as a gift.
Bruce had found the truck at a farm in Kansas. The years had not been kind to the truck. It would need to be completely restored; something Bruce and Terry could do together.
"He wanted to do it together. He goes, 'I was thinking we could do it together,'" says Terry.
But before they got the chance, Bruce was deployed to Afghanistan. He would be part of a unit charged with rebuilding villages near the Pakistan border. Because he wouldn't be able to rebuild the 59 Chevy Apache pickup himself, he paid an auto mechanic in Cheyenne $17,000 to do the work for him. Once the truck was completed, it would be a surprise for Terry.
Captain Hays was in Afghanistan for less than a month when on September 17, 2008 he was killed by a roadside bomb. He left behind a wife and two children. He had also left behind one last gift: that 59 Chevy Apache pickup truck. Unfortunately, the man Captain Hays had entrusted to restore the truck never did the work.
"After he was killed, the guy took the money and ran," says Dean Hunhoff, a Major in the Wyoming Army National Guard. "It was very difficult."
Law enforcement officers eventually found the mechanic who had taken the $17,000. He was already being held on other charges and the money he took from Captain Hays was gone.
When friends of Captain Hays learned of the situation, they reflected on the character of Bruce Hays when deciding what to do.
"Bruce was always about taking the bad, taking something that needs work and putting it together and making it work," says Adam Martinez, a friend of Captain Hays. "Bruce did everything from start to finish."
His friends decided if Bruce couldn't finish this one last gift to his family, then they would do it for him. They got the support of WyoTech, a technical school in Laramie. Technicians there worked to peel away the rust and formulate a plan for restoring the truck.
The challenge remained, however, to raise enough money to purchase the parts for the vintage truck and speed up the process. When word about the truck spread, the community stepped up to answer the challenge.
Kent Stevinson, president of Stevinson Automotive, offered parts and the services of his technical staff to restore the truck. He also provided something that took the project nationwide. He created www.CaptainHaysApacheProject.com, a website where people could contribute parts and services. The response was immediate and overwhelming. From coast to coast, individuals and companies began offering up parts for the vintage truck.
"So when you get that kind of feedback across the country, this is going to be a community truck," says Stevinson.
While technicians at Stevinson Chevrolet in Lakewood worked to take all those donations of parts and create a truck, the students at WyoTech transformed the old truck body into a thing of beauty.
The finished truck would be painted in Captain Hays favorite color: blue. The 59 model truck would have all the latest accessories from air conditioning to a CD changer. It was a truck fitting for an American hero and his family.
The donations to the project not only covered the cost of restoring the truck, it provided seed money to create a scholarship fund in the name of Captain Bruce Hays. Each year, a scholarship will be offered to a veteran attending WyoTech.
Ten months after the friends of Captain Hays set out to finish this one last gift - it was done. They all came together at WyoTech to present the keys to the Hays family.
"Thank you and God bless all of you," said Terry Hays. "You've done such a beautiful job and Bruce would be so honored."
In the end, Captain Hay's one last gift to his family was finished by the community, the same community he gave his life for to defend.
(KUSA-TV © 2011 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)