DRACUT - If Dracut was Mayberry, Ron Roy's radiator repair shop on Lakeview Avenue would be Floyd's Barber Shop.
On any given day you can find a small group of friends just hanging out at R.R. Radiator and Towing at 1207 Lakeview Ave., just across the street from Beaver Brook in Dracut.
"Sometimes it gets a little slow and the guys stop by and chat," says Roy, whose business has been at that location since 1989. "We could be talking about anything from veterans services to the honor guard to the hot rod club. We just don't talk politics. That's asking for trouble. We have Democrats and Republicans. We try to stay away from that."
Roy, a Vietnam-era Marine Corps veteran, has been trying to start an official honor guard in Greater Lowell that would attend funerals, dedications, parades and other functions. And if his role as a sergeant at arms in the Lowell Veterans Council and his involvement with the Merrimack Valley Vietnam Veterans, the American Legion in Tyngsboro, the Marine Corps League of Lowell and the Marine Corps League of Hudson, N.H., were not enough, he also serves as president of the Dracut Roadrunners Car Club, which began in 1955.
The 61-year-old Roy, who grew up in the Pawtucketville section of Lowell, didn't wait for Uncle Sam to draft him back in 1969. He enlisted in the Marine Corps and was stationed at Camp Pendleton in California from 1970 to 1972. He was never sent to Vietnam but is still considered a Vietnam-era veteran.
"I could have gone over at any minute," he says from behind his desk inside the little garage. "When I got out, that's when I became interested in hot rods and classic and antique cars."
In the corner of his Lakeview Avenue shop sits his pride and joy -- a sunny-yellow 1930 Ford Model A 5-Window Coupe. The club meets every week beginning in May in the parking lot of the Drum Hill Burger King in Chelmsford. Their final Cruise Night is scheduled for Wednesday from 4:30 p.m. until dusk.
Q: Is there an official Greater Lowell Honor Guard?
A: "Nope. We could never make it happen. We did get some interest after an article ran in the Lowell Sun back in 2009 but not enough. We had one guy from Tewksbury who wanted to get involved so I referred him to the Dracut American Legion and now he's an honor guard captain. We had another guy that showed up for two or three events and then we never saw him again. So the idea of an official honor guard never got off the ground. It's too bad."
Q: But is there an unofficial honor guard that attends wakes, funerals and dedications?
A: "Oh yeah, sure. We still provide an honor guard when something comes up. I get some of the Marines. I call some of the guys at the American Legion or the VFW in Lowell, or the Merrimack Valley Vietnam Veterans. I'd say there are probably a dozen names on my list of people I can call and maybe a half-dozen can make it to a funeral or a square dedication. It's a small group but it's something. It means something to the families."
Q: How many people does it take to make up an honor guard?
A: "The best scenario is to have at least seven members, eight with a captain. But that's not happening these days. Sometimes we can only get four of five guys to come out. You really need seven to have a 21-gun salute, but we do it with however many men that we have. We do the best we can. We make it work."
Q: What is the biggest obstacle you're facing?
A: "Money is the issue. Money buys uniforms, buys rental halls, buys dry-cleaning for the uniforms. We're all volunteers and unless a guy is retired, it's going to cost him a day's pay to be part of an honor guard. It would be nice to have some money from the state or the federal government so we could compensate these guys that lose a day out of work to attend a funeral. Even if it's not much. Just a little something to let them know they are appreciated."
Q: How many times a year is an honor guard called for?
A: "We haven't done too many funerals or wakes in 2012, knock on wood. That's a good thing. Maybe just a half-dozen or so this year. We just did a church service last Saturday for a friend, Leo 'Butch' Daigle. We brought four guys and members of the active Marines from the anti-terrorist group came from Springfield. We found out that the priest that said the Mass spent two years in Fallujah attached to the U.S. Navy Marine Corps Team. That was nice. And we don't do many square dedications anymore because I guess they changed the criteria to get a square named after you. The rules are different. Not just anybody can get a square or a street named after them anymore."