Bikers have a reputation for always being ready to help out a worthy cause. If the cause is veteran related, they're even more inclined to help. That was the case several years ago when a guy named Robert Harris first showed up at bike shows in Florida. He had a 1985 Harley-Davidson Softail with an airbrushed Vietnam war scene on the tank. He said it was done in tribute to the soldiers he had served with in the 173rd Airborne unit during 1965-66. He called himself Sky Soldier.
The bike struck a chord with many veterans who began giving Robert military items to add to the bike. There were medals, ribbons, challenge coins and other mementos. More modifications followed and the transformed bike became the center of attention at many shows. It was hard to ignore a Harley with a belt-fed M-60 machine gun, an M-72 LAW rocket launcher, an M-79 grenade launcher, a couple of shotguns, two M-16's, two AK-47's, claymore mines, mortar rounds, artillery shells, and a 9mm pistol. The mirrors and passenger foot pegs were fashioned from grenades and bayonets were mounted as highway pegs. Saddlebags were converted into ammo tins. The headlight was surrounded by 50 caliber rounds. A sidecar was added on later. It was made from some old F-4 Phantom fighter drop tanks with an ejection seat and a Gatling gun. Not to mention an afterburner fashioned from the engine cone of a 1970's A7 Corsair which would light up.
Along with all the heavy hardware, the bike sported a custom leather seat and was given a one-of-a-kind paint job which depicted battle scenes from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf Wars. There was a powerful audio system in the sidecar which pumped out patriotic tunes from the likes of Lee Greenwood and Bruce Springsteen.
His bike display at the shows was like an artist's installation and included a sign asking for donations to help homeless veterans. One dollar to take a picture of the bike, five for a picture of you with the bike, and for ten you got to sit on the bike and pose. He seemed to be a good man doing good deeds.
As a fellow U.S. Army veteran, I was impressed and offered to use my magazine, Go For A Ride, to help spread the word. The magazine already had a monthly section called “Veterans Info” and I agreed to put in updates about the Tribute Bike and did so for about a year and a half beginning in April 2009. This was the same time he was organizing a fundraiser called “Operation Dust Off”. This was to be a ride across America raising awareness and money for homeless and disabled vets. He did make the ride from Jacksonville, FL to Hollywood, CA with several fundraising stops along the way. His return to the east coast coincided with the 2009 Memorial Day Rolling Thunder event in Washington, D.C. His report to the magazine noted that the ride fell far short of the financial goal he had set but that he hoped a documentary film would generate some future funding.
Back in Florida, the bike was a regular feature and a prize winner at bike shows throughout the state. During the warm weather season he also took the bike to places like Laconia and Sturgis and was hosted at many veterans events around the country.
Harris was always quick to point out that he was a volunteer and did not receive a salary or use any of the funds for his own expenses. At one point he reported that money raised by his appearances had gone to the Wounded Warriors Project, Paralyzed Veterans of America, National Veterans Foundation, Blind Veterans Association, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Suncoast Charities, U.S. Olympic Committee, Feed the Children, Boys Town, and more.
The last report I received from Harris was published in the December 2010 issue of Go FAR telling about taking the bike to a Veterans Day event in Albany, GA. The next time I saw his name in print was early March of 2011 when the local paper reported on the arrest of some folks in Brooksville for international money laundering and illegal narcotics activity. The name of one of those arrested was Robert Harris. And guess what? That wasn't his real name. It was Eugene Paull.
He sure had me fooled. The police raided his property and found a house with secret stairways and an escape tunnel under construction. Overall, they seized 2 homes, 3 vehicles, 2 custom motorcycles, 2 campers, a 47-foot yacht, weapons, ammo, and cash. Over a million dollars in goods and property. There were also offshore bank accounts in Jamaica and the Cayman's but they were protected by international banking laws.
According to the media release from the Hernando County Sheriff's Office, Eugene Paull was convicted of Federal drug charges in 1973 but he fled to Jamaica before he could be sentenced. Apparently it was there that he developed the Robert Harris identity. The real Robert Harris was a child who died at the age of 2 in New Jersey in 1945. The Paull and Harris families did actually know each other. Paull was able to obtain a passport in Harris' name and used it to travel back to the USA. He was in the hotel business and, according to authorities, dealing drugs. He hooked up with a Jamaican girl named Carla who was also using a fake identity. The two settled in Brooksville and began setting up shell corporations to launder their illegal money. One of those businesses was showing off the Veterans Bike which allowed them to travel the country under the guise of doing charity work.
Who got all the money he was collecting at the bike shows? I do know that some of it did go to veteran charities. He would report making donations and there were photos with him handing over the money. But how much was actually collected? Who knows. It was all cash. For one of the years investigators estimated he collected over $100,000 but only donated $1,300 to any charities.
After their arrest Harris and his girlfriend avoided prison time. They forfeited all of the goods and property and were only charged with identity theft. She was deported back to Jamaica. Harris received probation but was later arrested in Miami in possession of explosives and a large cache of cash.
There's no doubt that Harris, or Paull, is a guy with a big ego. He even published a book of his adventures called “38 Years a Fugitive – I Beat The System”. You can find it on Amazon. I haven't read it but I did find something else that was very interesting while putting this story together.
There is a YouTube video which was shot in Atlanta in 2019. It was the Dreamscape Boxing Club 30 Year Reunion. The narrator was Robert Harris, who founded the club in 1988 in Jamaica. In the seventeen minute film many of his boxing students testify to the good that Harris brought to their lives through the boxing club. And Harris turned some of these guys into very good world class boxers. It's an amazing contrast between the different lives that he's lived and makes me wonder who this guy really is.
I've also been wondering whatever happened to the Vet Tribute Bike? I believe most of the property and other goods were auctioned off, but supposedly the bike was given to a DAV Post in Brooksville to use to raise funds. I don't recall ever seeing any information about a raffle or auction and the post has since gone out of business. So, I'll put the question to you. Do you know where the Vet Tribute Bike ended up?