Hot rod road trip aims to help

Marine vets cruise from Alaska to Arizona to raise awareness, funds for wounded warrior

By Tom Vogt, Columbian Science, Military & History Reporter

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Aaron Showalter, 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds, squeezes into a 1935 Ford hot rod Tuesday in Vancouver. Showalter and fellow Marine veteran Lenny Cestaro, who owns the hot rod, are traveling from Alaska to Arizona to raise money for a Marine wounded in Afghanistan.

A Jack Daniel's bottle catches radiatior overflow. The 292-cubic-inch engine came from a 1956 Ford F100 pickup.

There’s lots to catch the eye when Lenny Cestaro and Aaron Showalter roll up in the hot rod.

There’s Cestaro’s car itself, a chopped 1935 Ford.

“The car attracts attention,” Showalter said. “At each gas station, it can take an hour.”

Then there are the two Marine Corps veterans who are traveling in the car. Particularly Showalter.

As Cestaro noted, it’s not quite accurate to say that his 6-foot-4, 250-pound friend sits in the car.

“He wears the car,” Cestaro said.

What they really want people to see is the website address that’s part of the artwork on the rear of the car — www.derekherrera.com.

Cestaro said that he served with Lt. Derek Herrera a few years ago when the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines went to Iraq.

In June 2012, Herrera — now a captain — was shot while leading a special-operations patrol in the Helmand Valley in Afghanistan. The bullet lodged between two vertebrae.

“He’s paralyzed,” but Herrera is still on active duty, Cestaro said, “and he wants to get back into it.”

Hospitalized in Los Angeles, the Marine officer is hoping to raise $70,000 for an exoskeleton — a high-tech bracing worn around the legs that would offer a workaround for Herrera’s paralysis.

A brotherhood

Cestaro and Showalter are trying to bring awareness to the fundraising effort with their hot rod trip from Alaska to Arizona. The route brought them Tuesday to Vancouver, for a stopover with Showalter’s uncle, Norman Bordine.

They aren’t collecting money along the way.

“We don’t want to touch any money,” Cestaro, 32, said. But they do want people to know about Herrera’s story. They also want to point potential contributors to another site, www.marsocfoundation.org; the Marsoc Foundation is a nonprofit that supports members of the Marines Corps’ Special Operations Command.

Showalter, 30, said he doesn’t know Herrera, but that doesn’t matter: Once you’re a Marine, it’s a brotherhood.

It’s been quite a trip so far, and not just because of the distinctive ride. It’s a little crowded in there, the Alaskans acknowledge. Cestaro is a 5-foot-7, 200-pounder.

They have to figure out the driving rotations with height in mind. The 6-foot-4 Showalter doesn’t drive the ’35 Ford on a city street. Even when he’s hunched over behind the wheel, Showalter can’t see a stop light through the lowered wind shield.

Showalter did get a more normal driving experience a few days ago — depending on your definition of normal. On an isolated stretch of Canadian highway, Showalter and Cestaro saw a tractor-trailer hit a pickup truck. The driver got out, but Showalter and Cestaro had to help the passenger out through the sun roof; she was seriously injured.

The two combat veterans had casualty-care training, Cestaro said, and stayed with her until a first responder arrived. It was an oil-field medic, in an oil-company ambulance; he made arrangements to meet a hospital ambulance down the road and the medic spent the trip in back of his own emergency vehicle with the patient.

“I got to drive the ambulance,” Showalter said — complete with sirens and red light. “That was kind of fun.”


Tom Vogt: 360-735-4558; http://twitter.com/col_history; tom.vogt@columbian.com.