Driving a camouflaged minivan with 'missiles' and 'machine guns' may make a statement about America's prisoners of war. But the message can get muddled when the missile van breaks down next to Nashville International Airport.
Jeffery Smith painted his van in camouflage colors and erected wooden missiles and machine guns as part of his tribute to service men and women who are missing in action or were prisoners of war, in support of the veterans group Rolling Thunder. He said he likes to show it off to children and exhibit it in parades to raise awareness.
But on Monday evening, the 170,000 miles on his van caught up to him.
"Of all the places to break down, I had to break down in front of the airport," Smith laughed.
Metro and airport police rushed to the scene. There they found what looked like a well-armed military vehicle. It had four missiles and a cannon on top, two machine guns on the front hood and a .50-caliber machine gun inside.
Police brought in an explosives-sniffing dog, but all the weapons turned out to be made of either plywood or PVC pipe. Smith was allowed to go about his business with no charges pressed against him. His missile van was towed away for repairs.
Smith said he has no hard feelings. In fact, he said he would have been disturbed if nobody called police on his broken-down van.
"I can understand," he said. "You see a van sitting at the end of the runway, four stinger missiles on top and two 50-cal machine guns..."
Smith said he's repaired the van and plans to keep driving it.
"It's not the intent to scare people. It's a military tribute vehicle for our service men and women who have served our country," he said. "Hopefully if someone sees it, they'll remember someone in the military."
Airport officials suggested maybe he take another route next time.
"It's not the best idea to go somewhere near an airport with something like that," said airport spokeswoman Shannon Sumrall. "Even if it's just for show."
Reach Brian Haas at 615-726-8968 and on Twitter @brianhaas.