It’s hard to believe that it has been more than 15 years since the terrorist attacks of 9/11 shook America to its core. It’s a day that none of us will forget and many will likely tell children and children’s children about in the future. 9/11, and the events that followed it, are what inspired Kelly Fromm to create Veteran 1, a military tribute themed fifth-gen Camaro that he then toured the country with. But fifteen years to the day after that tragic event, Kelly would have another event happen that he will never forget as he looked on as his beloved patriotic emblazoned fifth-gen burned to the ground inside its trailer.
You may have seen Kelly’s first car, Veteran 1, on these very pages and on just about every LS-themed page and publication around. That car was eventually raffled off to help fund Kelly’s main reason for building the car, promoting veteran’s rights and funding the Active Dogs Academy Service Dog Foundation (ADASDF)—an organization that donates it’s time and efforts to provide service animals for the disabled.
A Little History
Kelly himself is a veteran, having served as a Staff Sergeant in the 82nd Airborne Division. He retired in 2001, just as the war in Afghanistan was ramping up. A friend of Kelly’s, Sargent Joseph Tutten, was subsequently killed while serving in Iraq in 2007. Fromm says this was the impetus to build Veteran 1.
Tutten was killed on Christmas day of 2007 and Kelly says that Veteran 1 became a way to honor his friend and get the word out about veteran’s rights. The fifth-gen was then airbrushed in a myriad of patriotic and military-themed iconography and shown at automotive gatherings of all kinds around the country. It immediately became a sensation across the nation.
After Veteran 1 had been auctioned off, Kelly set to work on what would become it’s successor—Project Freedom Fighter. The project started life as a bone stock 2012 Camaro ZL1 but didn’t stay that way for long. It was the very first wide-body ZL1 ever built with the help of TS Designs and Stingray Garage. Over 300 man hours were invested in just the widening alone. It was then handed off to Livernois Motorsports who massaged the LSA to produce 715 rwhp and 675 lb-ft of torque. Next, and perhaps most importantly, it headed over to Jason Oberly, owner of Oberly Airbrush Studios, to have its all-important murals—dedicated to the men, women, and animals that protect this country everyday—applied to its exterior.
When it was finished, Project Freedom Fighter was a badass work of art. Not only that, but it brought joy and hope to thousands of fans and veterans a like. Kelly is known for traveling great distances to share the car with others the way he feels it should be.
That was until the weekend of September 8-11. Kelly had trailered Freedom Fighter to the Kool End of Summer Bash Festival and Car Show at the Cannery Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. There, thousands of festival-goers marveled at the custom airbrushing and patriotic livery that adorns the fifth-gen ZL1. This was supposed to be the first of many stops for Kelly, as he planned to work his way across the country promoting veteran’s rights along the way. He was troubled to hear of veterans with service dogs being turned away at establishments— he himself having had waited four years for his companion dog, Catherine.
“Lately, in the last 90 days specifically, a lot of stories were popping up in the news about veterans being turned away from businesses due to their service dogs,” Kelly said. “Having been personally discriminated against myself, I was going to cross the country stopping at various VAs, military bases, and visit businesses to see if I would be turned away, and if I was, educate those businesses on the rights of anyone with a service animal, but specifically people on the veteran side.”
Kelly’s car was even adorned with an image of a military dog name Lex. He says that people often mistake the painting for his own service animal, Catherine, but he is quick to tell them that it is there to honor the first animal veteran to ever be discharge to a civilian handler.
“It kind of ties it all together,” Kelly said. “Veterans, that used to be dog handlers, are now getting the rights to get their dogs that they trained on activity duty returned to them after service—it is to promote the benefits of service dogs and animals to veterans.”
Kelly claims that the car turned him from an introvert to an extrovert, telling us that his wife now calls him a “social butterfly.”
On September 11 (of all days), only 40 miles from their home, Kelly says they began to get more than the usual amount of attention.
“We always have people that drive passed and wave and point or honk,” Kelly said. “But we were started getting more than the usual amount of attention for about five minutes before someone got us to stop.”
Earlier in the day, a tire on Kelly’s trailer had blown. They had to wait for road side assistance as the jack they had with them was no match for the trailers considerable weight. After they were back on the road–and only 30 minutes back into their trip–other drivers began trying to get their attention.
A tractor-trailer driver eventually caught Kelly’s eye and as he looked to the rearview mirror he saw black smoke billowing behind them. He quickly brought the truck and trailer to a halt on the side of the road thinking that the truck had blown a seal or something else was wrong. To his horror, when he exited the truck he saw that the smoke and fire was coming from inside the trailer.
“By the time we pulled over, the center section of the trailer was already on fire,” Kelly said. “We started getting the trailer unhitched from the truck as quickly as possible while the truck driver started trying to put out the flames.”
After the door on the trailer was opened, the fire reached more oxygen and quickly kicked into overdrive. Luckily, they got the truck unhooked and moved away just in the nick of time. But, after a hand-held extinguisher failed to contain the flames, they had no choice but to sit back and watch as Kelly’s beloved car burned to the ground while they waited for a fire department to respond.
“It’s hard to watch something like that burn,” Kelly said. “But I couldn’t help but kind of laugh when I saw the name of the fire department when they showed up.”
Kelly says that the department that was first to arrive on the scene was by no means the closest, but is by all means the most ironic. The Baghdad fire department showed up to quench the flames on the military-themed fifth-gen Camaro.
As the trailer burned on the 15th anniversary of 9/11, Kelly says the last image on it—which was painted to match Freedom Fighter—to go up was the airbrushing of the raising of an American flag at ground zero.
And while Kelly was devastated to watch his car literally go up in smoke, he remains optimistic. He tells us that a new build will soon begin on another military tribute car—most likely a sixth-gen this time around. A GoFundMe account has been setup to help rebuild the car.
“I want to be very clear, yes I’m insured, I’m not doing the GoFundMe to fund the entire car–it’s a low goal,” Kelly said. “It’s more about getting the message out about the service dog project and what I intended to do with the car on my tour.”
We were saddened to hear of the car’s demise. A lot of man-hours went into the car and anyone who has put that much time and effort into something knows that it is more than just an inanimate object. But we are encouraged to hear of Kelly’s upbeat attitude in the face of such adversity.
Stay tuned to LSXmag.com as we will closely monitoring what Kelly has in story for his next build. And rest assured that you will definitely be seeing another “Freedom Fighter” at a car show near you soon.
See the video below to see a walk around the car and rig during the car show on September 8 and the carnage of September 11.