Sgt. Bradley S. Crose joined the Army in June,1998 two weeks after his high school graduation. Four years later in 2002 as an Army Ranger, he was assigned to the 1st Ranger Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, deployed to Afghanistan. Brad was scheduled for discharge from the Army in October 2002, when he planned on attending college, and restoring the1981 Corvette his mother had bought for him before he was deployed.
It was not to be.
Brad was killed in action during Operation Anaconda on March 4, 2002. He was just 22.
Ricky Crose, Brad’s Navy veteran father said, You lost a great treasure in your life that can never be replaced but, yet, if my son knew that the results would be the same, he would still go.”
His son died while fighting in what’s known as the Battle of Roberts Ridge, one of the deadliest engagements during Operation Anaconda.
“They had sent two helicopters up there. Of course, in the fog of war there’s always miscommunication and headquarters told them, don’t go up there, it’s too dangerous. And they didn’t get that message. They went up there in a chinook helicopter and the chinook helicopter turned into a bullet sponge,” the elder Crose said.
For almost a decade after his death, Brad’s beloved Corvette sat in silent memorium at his mother’s house.
The car had been sitting uncovered and untouched since 2005, slowly ravaged by the elements, a tangible reminder of her fallen son. Sheila could no longer ignore its deterioration, which weighed heavily on her mind. The last major piece of him was literally wasting away before her eyes. But how could she get it restored to its former glory before it was too late?
In 2012 at wit’s end, Sheila, reached out to the one person she knew would know the way: a Ranger.
Sheila contacted her son’s fellow Ranger, Master Sergeant Eric Stebner, and asked him if he was interested in the ’81 Vette.
Stebner promptly contacted a friend, Mike Ellis, whom he had met years prior through Ellis’ work designing vehicles for the U.S. Department of Defense. Stebner needed help since he was deployed overseas, and he knew Ellis had significant experience with -- and passion for -- Corvettes.
“Nobody was sure the exact condition of the vehicle, whether or not it would run, or what exactly it would need to ensure Brad’s pride and joy didn’t die the certain death that it was headed for,” Ellis says.
“After talking to Sheila, who clearly was torn over this decision to let the car go, I knew I only had a small window of opportunity to recover it [for] Brad’s close friend and Ranger buddy. Sheila even calls Eric a son.”
In December 2012, Ellis headed north from Tampa to Jacksonville to retrieve the Corvette. “My heart sank when I finally saw it,” he remembers. “The Florida weather had not been kind to it…no shade from the sun or shelter from the rain for at least six years. The tires were flat and dry rotted, the tops had leaked, the interior was an absolute mess, the battery was dead, and the list goes on.”
“…But Eric is my friend and Brad is an American hero, so I was already personally committed to this project,” he says. “And seeing his mom’s emotions only further confirmed the need to rescue his Corvette and ensure that somehow it would ride again.
Ellis said, “The details of what I found were not terrifying, but certainly more than I was going to be able to handle on my own, given my obligations at MacDill Air Force Base [in Tampa] and general lack of time. The challenge was to have the Corvette done by May and ready for the 2013 Hot Rod Power Tour, because Eric was scheduled to redeploy to Texas on May 10, and the tour was only three weeks after that!"
But Rangers indeed know the way. By May, Brad’s classic Corvette was leading the pack at the 2013 Hod Rod Power Tour, a fitting tribute to a fallen soldier.