Jerry Lektorich, father of Army Spec. 5 Eric Lektorich, looks inside his son’s 1973 Ford F-100 pickup truck Friday. The family is looking for help to fix up the truck so they can surprise their son when he returns from Afghanistan next year. Mail Tribune / Julia Moore - Julia Moore

A Mission For Eric

The front, left fender of the forest-green 1973 Ford F-100 pickup is slightly munched. The old steering wheel is held together by two adjustable metal hose clamps. And the cloth cover on the bench seat appears to have been clawed by an angry wild cat.

But Eric Lektorich is fond of the nearly 40-year-old truck with an engine he rebuilt as a senior project at North Medford High School, where he graduated in 2001.

Now his parents and siblings in Medford want to make the old truck look like new as a surprise for Army Spc. 5 Lektorich, 29, who arrived Sept. 16 in Afghanistan to begin his second tour of duty.

They figure they have nine months to complete their mission, which includes everything from body work to installing a new stereo.

"It's beat up a bit, but he loves that old pickup," said his father, Jerry Lektorich. "He enjoys working on cars. When he is home on leave, it seems like he spends half his time working on vehicles for people.

"So we want to upgrade his truck for him," added the dental technician. "But it's kind of a project that is bigger than us."

They are inviting anyone with expertise in body and fender work, car painting and other aspects of the project to step forward to help as a way to honor the soldier. Donations also are welcome.

Their goal is to have the work done by mid-June of 2013, when his unit in the 101st Airborne Division out of Fort Campbell, Ky., is scheduled to return.

"We'd like to have it as a complete surprise for him," his father said.

"We're asking people to not put it on Facebook or anything," stressed his mother, Sue Lektorich.

Joining in on the surprise project is Eric's older brother Scott and sisters Katie and Julie. A younger brother, Bryan, died in 2009.

They describe the project as a labor of love that will demonstrate their feelings for a loved one now in harm's way.

"This guy is my hero and the greatest little brother ever," Scott stressed of his soldier brother. "He loves his family and would do anything for us. This feels like the ultimate way to pay him back and show how much we love and respect him.

"I almost consider Eric the family mechanic," he said. "For our 16-year-old daughter at North, we bought a little Mazda. I told her, when her uncle comes back he will want to go through the car to make sure everything is OK."

When he isn't tinkering on a car to help folks out, Eric likes to ride a bicycle, hike the Table Rocks or play one of the bass guitars in his collection, they say.

"Sometimes of an evening, you can catch him watching the sunset," his father said. "He says that's such a pretty view, watching the sun drop below the mountains."

"He told me he sometimes closes his eyes and remembers that skyline," his mother said, noting the thought nearly makes her cry.

"Eric is a deep thinker," she added with a smile. "I think he was born old."

The Medford native has an associate's degree in machine-tool technology from Mt. Hood Community College in Portland. He joined the Army in 2008 and served his first tour in Afghanistan in 2010-11.

"He was scheduled to get out this past summer after four years but he volunteered for the nine-month deployment," his father said. "When he gets out next summer, he wants to take advantage of the GI Bill, possibly going into engineering."

He didn't talk much about his first deployment, his family said.

"Like a lot of people in the service, he plays it down," Jerry said.

They know he is now stationed near the Pakistan border, and that his duties include driving trucks in convoys as well as manning a machine gun in a turret atop an armored vehicle.

Before joining the Army, he helped his father rebuild the family's 1968 Cougar, which is now in pristine condition with a gleaming coat of Caribbean-blue paint.

While the family knows his truck will never look as good as the classic Mercury, they figure they can "rock his world" by fixing it up, Scott said.

In addition to rebuilding the truck's 360-cubic-inch V-8 engine, Eric has had the automatic transmission rebuilt in the truck and replaced a battered dashboard. The vehicle's power steering and disc brakes are in good shape, they said.

The odometer reads 43,228, although it is likely the odometer has turned over once, Scott said.

Now they want to have the dings pounded out, get a new paint job, have the seat reupholstered, install a stereo system, replace the exhaust system and fine-tune the engine.

"The steering wheel is kind of cracked up," Jerry observed.

"It doesn't have a radio, at least one that works," he continued. "It does have an eight-track stereo but no speakers."

With that, father and son chuckle.

"I told Eric that if he got some speakers we could probably go over to St. Vincent De Paul and find a couple of eight-track tapes," Scott said. "We could put 'em in and see what happens."

With that, he popped the hood to reveal the engine.

"He named the engine the 'Papa Smurf' because it has that Ford-blue color," Scott said.

"The truck is really not in too bad of shape," his father concluded.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at

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