FORT WAYNE, IND. (WPTA21)-If ever you need a reminder of what our military veterans did and where they did it this is the place to come. The Veterans National Memorial and Museum on O’Day Road tells the story of America’s armed conflicts from the Revolution to Desert Storm, through artifacts and photographs and personal testimonials. But the most impressive artifact here isn’t found in a display case or on the museum floor..it’s in storage awaiting its turn.
In a corner of the memorial’s events pavilion stands a relic of two world wars and a reminder of the suffering that followed each. It’s a World War One era railroad box car, called a ‘forty and eight’, built in France to haul troops and supplies to the front lines. Called a ‘forty and eight’ because it could carry either forty soldiers or eight horses at a time. In 1947 war torn France was starving, it’s economy destroyed, it’s ability to grow food non-existent. In response American citizens donated hundreds of tons of food, blankets and supplies, loaded them on the so-called Friendship Train and shipped it all to France.
“That was 1947,” says museum curator Paul Allen. “1949 they reciprocated by sending 49 boxcars from France loaded with art, French chocolate, wine..”
It was called the ‘Merci Train’, or Gratitude Train, an expression of gratitude from the people of France to the people of America, one boxcar for each of the 48 states and the District of Columbia. The box car at Fort Wayne’s veterans memorial is the one sent to Indiana. Volunteers at the memorial are collecting donations to restore the relic, put it on display in a place of honor to tell the story not of a battle or act of heroism, but an expression of humanity that helped a devastated nation get back on its feet, and a reminder to all of us that war doesn’t always end when the shooting stops.