OGDEN CITY, Utah (ABC4) — Utah veterans and community members are upset at Ogden City for failing to take care of a World War II memorial that was gifted to the state 74 years ago by the French. They are calling on the city to act quickly to save Merci Train. The city says it is already on it.
Merci Train is a boxcar that sits outside Union Station. The boxcar, and others like it, was used during both world wars. The train was built in the 1880s and during the world wars, it could carry 40 men and eight horses across France and into battle.
Ogden City gives some background information on the car: “In 1947, Ogden hosted the ‘Friendship Train’ for Utah, with private citizens contributing three boxcars of food and aid to the people of France after World War II. As a token of gratitude, the people of France sent the ‘Merci Train’ in 1949.”
“Every soldier I know, we wear our medals and we do it with honor because it’s something we’ve earned,” American Legion Post 9 Commander A.C. Scheer told ABC4. “That boxcar is something we’ve earned and it’s a shame to let it go.”
In 2002, it was moved to Ogden but was in bad condition. The city gives additional information: “Between 2002 and 2009, members of the Society of Forty Men and Eight Horses volunteered their efforts to repair the boxcar. As enthusiasts but not expert conservators, they replaced rotting wood and repainted the exterior and interior of the car. The boxcar was dedicated on July 11, 2009. The work done improved many aspects of the car’s appearance, but the lack of conservation guidance led to poor long-term protection of the car. Due to the boxcar being uncovered to the elements and the use of latex paint, the car has experienced weathering effects in the 13 years since it was dedicated.”
Veterans told ABC4 that in 2019, Ogden City took control of the boxcar and would no longer allow them to work on the car. Many believe the boxcar would not be in its current condition if the city had kept up with regular maintenance of the Merci Train.
“It’s just simply disrespectful to every veteran who’s ever served in the armed forces,” Ogden resident Steve Jones stated.
Another Ogden resident added: “I’m concerned that it’s getting to a point where it’s getting harder and harder to restore it properly.”
“I’m hoping that the city will actually get together with us civilians and with the military and with the veterans and actually get things going on this,” American Legion Post 9 Second Command Jamie Webb told ABC4.
In a statement to ABC4, the city stated: “We wholeheartedly agree that the Merci Car needs love and have already actively been seeking funding to see this through. We will be seeking qualified, insured contractors to respond to our request for bid (RFB) in the coming months when the funding source is secure. We honor those who brought the train to us in Ogden in 2002 and are all anxious and excited to see the Merci Car restored and ready for the public to enjoy. ”
“If we can help in any way, we’re willing to be part of that conversation to work with the foundation or the city to get it restored, to get it properly covered and protected so we don’t have to go through this again,” Vietnam veteran Bill Dodge said.
According to the city, the restoration will take place in two parts: “First, we plan to hire an experienced professional railcar restoration company to follow guidelines recommended by the State Historic Preservation Office and the protocols set by other states restoring their own Merci Cars. Once the car is restored, we will hire a professional company to build an appropriate covering structure for the Merci Car to prevent future weathering damage. This dual approach will allow the Merci Car to be preserved for decades to come.”