|ANNAPOLIS, Md., July 10, 2008 – Patriotism runs high at Chick and Ruth's Delly, a mainstay along the Maryland capital's Main Street. Ted Levitt, the deli's owner, starts each morning leading patrons as they recite the Pledge of Allegiance. |
A huge flag hovers high over the lunch counter, and yellow-and-orange walls are covered with photos of troops in uniform.
Now, Levitt has a new addition: a fully restored 1931 Buick, airbrushed with the faces of 43 heroes who have served the country in the armed forces or as police officers, firefighters and other first responders. (photo on left)
|Levitt hopes to use his labor of love, which he's named “Faces of Valor USA,” to raise money for scholarships and financial assistance for or in honor of those wounded or killed while performing their duty. |
The red, white and blue car took two and a half years to restore and made its debut appearance during Annapolis' Fourth of July Parade. Now Levitt is lining up events where he can showcase the car to raise funds to help those who have sacrificed for their country and the families some of them left behind.
Levitt said he got the idea to personalize his project after the parents of Marine Capt. Ben Sammis stopped into his deli to tell him that their son had been killed conducting helicopter rescues in Iraq. Sammis graduated from The Citadel in South Carolina, but met Levitt when he frequented Chick and Ruth's Delly while attending a U.S. Naval Academy program.
Devastated to hear of his death, Levitt asked Beth and Steve Sammis for permission to use their son's face on his car.
Levitt took the project farther, ultimately choosing 43 people to depict on his car and bring faces to the concepts of sacrifice and service. In addition to 15 firefighters killed in New York during the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the Faces of Valor project highlights troops who have served in
operations from the Vietnam War to the war in Iraq.
Levitt knows all but the New York firefighters personally, from his cousin, Army Chief Warrant Officer Stewart Goldberg, who was killed when his helicopter was shot down in Vietnam in July 1969, to Master Sgt. Karl Allen, a local businessman who retired from the reserve components after three deployments.
The face of Army Capt. D.J. Skelton, a Chick and Ruth's Delly patron, appears with his left eye closed; he lost it during a rocket-propelled-grenade attack while serving with 25th Infantry Division in Fallujah, Iraq, in November 2004.
But Levitt said he intentionally chose to use not only faces of those wounded or killed in the line of duty.
“This is a tribute, not a memorial,” he said of the Faces of Valor project. “A lot of people think you have to have been killed to be honored, but that's not the point here. What matters is that these people put their lives on the line every day to protect us. It's because of them that we get to live the lives we live.”
Levitt said he wants people who see the car to focus on each face and recognize the sacrifices so many people make so Americans can live in safety and enjoy freedoms some only dream about.
“These are the men and women who allow us to live in freedom, to do any kind of job we want and allow our constitution to live on,” he said. “It's because of them that we get to do what we do.”
At age 51, Levitt said, he remembers the protests and abuse that awaited many Vietnam veterans when they returned from that war, and said he wants to ensure that never happens to today's returning troops.
“They need to be treated as heroes,” he said. “And for those who need help, they need to know that they will be taken care of. We owe them that.”