A Fallen Soldier’s Last Gift: Bruce Hays and the Apache Project

After soldier Bruce Hays died in Afghanistan, his Wisconsin neighbors worked to restore an old truck that he'd promised to his wife Terry.

Bruce Hays, a captain in the Wyoming Army National Guard from Laramie, Wisconsin, bought a truck for his wife Terry as an anniversary present in 2008. It was just like the one her dad used to drive. This truck wasn’t quite road-worthy, though: The 1959 Chevy Apache pick-up was in pieces, and covered in rust. It would take months to restore the truck to its former glory—but Hays was prepared to put in the time, working with Terry to bring the truck back to life.

Before he could get to work, though, Hays was deployed to Afghanistan. He didn’t want Terry to wait until he returned to drive the truck, so he paid a mechanic $17,000 to fix it up, as a surprise gift for her.

But things didn’t go at all according to plan. A month into his deployment, Hays was killed by a roadside bomb. And, after learning of his customer’s death, the mechanic took Hays’ money and ran, without completing the work that he had ordered for his wife.

When Hays’ friends found out what had happened to the Chevy Apache, they knew they had to make things right for his grieving widow. They pooled together money from the Laramie community to support the truck restoration. A local automotive shop owner donated parts and labor for free, and created a website where people all over the United States could donate auto parts and money. Technicians from a local school, WyoTech, volunteered to remove the layers of rust.

The truck was painted in Hays’ favorite color, blue, and presented to Terry by the volunteers who worked so tirelessly to rebuild it.

“Thank you and God bless all of you,” said Terry Hays. “You’ve done such a beautiful job and Bruce would be so honored.”

Watch the touching video about the project.