Army veteran almost finished restoring Vietnam-era PBR boat

Posted at 9:29 PM, Dec 25, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-25 22:32:21-05

MUSKEGON, Mich. --  An Army veteran from Muskegon is using his skills to give back to veterans that came before him.

Robert Bowyer is fixing up a Vietnam-era PBR boat to give free rides to veterans, but recently he's hit a road block.

Fox 17 first met Bowyer in July when he had just started fixing up the boat. It's almost finished, except for the two Detroit Diesel engines it needs. Bowyer hopes to have it completed before the spring so he can show veterans they aren't forgotten.

What seemed like an impossible task, is now possible just five months later. Bowyer purchased the Vietnam-era PBR boat over the summer to restore it, so he can take veterans and other passengers out on the water.

"You get the veterans down here and you get them around each other and they feel safe," said Bowyer. "They feel like this is just for them and their stories are unreal."

The project is part of Operation Black Sheep, an effort to show support for the veterans Bowyer calls the black sheep. With 14 years in the Army and two tours of Afghanistan under his belt, Bowyer started Operation Black Sheep to help veterans and restore history.

"Operation Black Sheep is kind of for those of us who have gone to war or served our country in any capacity," said Bowyer. "It changes you and you come back and feel like the black sheep of the community. You feel different. In some ways you're very proud of that difference, but in other ways it's very hard sometimes to fit in and to feel like you belong."

The project has received a lot of attention from veterans like Steve Wendt, who brought Bowyer a photo album and an authentic PBR bottle opener from his time in Vietnam.

"There's so many people here that have just shown up to help," said Bowyer. "There's Vietnam veterans who physically can't help, but they come down here and will take a part somewhere to get it fixed or to share their story of why it's important in what we're doing. Wendt just showed up and couldn't believe it. He said he couldn't believe a young man like me is doing all of this for them and couldn't believe how determined I was. It makes me feel good that somebody like him is acknowledging what I'm doing. It really breaks my heart that guys like him have gone through so much and were given so little and when I came home from Afghanistan, everybody wanted to give me a hand and pat me on the back and tell me how great I am, but if it wasn't for them I wouldn't have any of it."

By April, Bowyer hopes to have the boat in the water so he can take veterans out on the lake to share their stories.

"I'm starting to feel this tremendous amount of pressure," said Bowyer. "I don't want to let them down. I want to meet that goal."

All Bowyer needs is help with the Detroit Diesel engines -- which are built right here in Michigan -- and he's hoping someone will be about to point him in the right direction or know where he can take them to be fixed.

"I can't wait to have this in the water where I can get them out and away from four walls to tell their stories to each other and to hear the engines, smell that same smell, the water, the air, the smell of diesel," said Bowyer. "I can't imagine there being anything like it."

When it's all finished, the PBR boat will be available for daily rentals, but there will be free days for veterans. For more information, visit their Facebook page or their website.