Tales of an Old Jeep
In the years after World War II, thousands of ex-military Willys MB's and Ford GPW's were sold as surplus all over the world. Today, most of them have been scrapped, but a precious few of them have stayed with us as a piece of history. This is the story of one of them...
The old Jeep was tired, and its battered body looked particularly haggard in the autumn light. Today was its fiftieth birthday, and more than ever, he felt the weight of a lifetime of service on his sagging springs. As usual, he took it all in stride, always managing to do the work demanded of him, but on days like this, when the weather was cold and his latest owner favored the new Dodge Ram, leaving the Jeep in the musty, decrepit barn, old memories would creep up to him, beckoning, reminding him of better days...
He recalled the bright autumn morning when his crate was sealed and stowed in the hull of a Liberty ship for the long trip to North Africa. He remembered being assembled at a makeshift outdoor garage, the glaring sun of Tunisia warming his new canvas seats. For two long years, he served proudly with an infantry division, and he had been hit several times in the course of the war. Sometimes, when the weather was unusually cold, he felt a dull ache on his quarter panel, where the many coats of paint had never managed to conceal the dent left by a ricocheting .50 caliber slug.
Fifty years of work had dulled, but never erased, the smell of battle from his body, the lingering mix of sweat, gunpowder, blood and most of all, fear. Twice he had his driver shot out from over him, leaving him stranded, helpless, in the midst of a raging battle; but always another young man would jump on him and drive him to safety. Time had blurred the faces of most of his comrades in arms, but he could still hear Jonesy, a young soldier who gripped the wheel too tightly, talking softly to him, begging him not to give up, to hold the last drop of water in a ruptured radiator as they made their way around enemy lines during a German counterattack somewhere in Belgium.
The Jeep remembered proudly the day he was driven through the streets of a liberated Paris, with Old Glory flying triumphantly on his back. He could still hear the cheers and smell the grateful tears and flowers that were dropped on him that day. How happy his young soldiers had been that day, gaping at the Eiffel Tower and stealing kisses from the French girls who followed them everywhere.
After the war, he had ended up in Belgium, stripped of his machine gun and radios and sold to a young farmer who used him to pull a tiller. His young wife told her husband that the Jeep's olive drab color reminded her of the war, so he received the first of his many civilian paint jobs, this one bright red. For many years, he saw the Flemish soil yield its plentiful harvest and the farmer's sons grow tall and strong. One of them, the youngest, would drive him often, and after his father's death he had taken him to the city. From it the old Jeep remembered the lights, the cacophony of noises that never stopped, and the dozens of pigeons who would irreverently cover his hood with droppings.
The Jeep remained in the city for years, driven infrequently, until the day he heard the old Englishman's voice for the first time. "That's exactly what I've been looking for, lad!", he heard, and his starter motor struggled to fire the engine. "This Jeep and I are going around the world!". Two weeks later, his engine completely overhauled and all of his fluids changed, he rumbled happily on brand new tires. He also sported a brand new paint job, bright blue, with a small Union Jack where the radio mount used to be.
What followed was the best six years of his life. The old Englishman, a country noble with a flair for adventure, drove him across Europe, to India, to Africa, to Australia, and then to Canada. The passage of time had inexorably frayed the memories of the trip, but the Jeep could recall a thousand tanks of gas, set after set of new tires, and the occasional spare part that kept him in shape. They had fled from bandits in eastern turkey, driven over bombed train tracks in the Punjab, crossed the dry plains of the Serengeti and the frozen tundra of northern Canada, endured scorching heat, monsoon rains, and storms of sand. Finally, their trip had taken them to Vancouver, where the old Englishman learned that his brother had passed away and his estates in Britain had to be settled. With misty eyes, the old gentleman sold the Jeep to a dealer, and the two traveling companions parted ways forever.
Twelve years and three owners later, all of who had purchased the Jeep for its low price and abused him mercilessly, he was exchanged for service to his current owner, a carpenter in Montana. Now he was driven only a few times a year, usually in the summer, and his paint was so faded that one could barely see the Union Jack on his left side. The passenger seat was long gone, as was the spare tire and the glass panels on the windshield, and his only companion was an ancient Marmon-Herrington pickup truck whose bed had been claimed by rust and his mood fouled by years of neglect.
"It's back here, in the barn" the loud voice said, snapping the old Jeep back from his memories. His owner was walking up to the barn, talking to a tall, distinguished looking old man with silver hair. "I have been looking for one of these for quite a while now," the new voice said, "I want to restore it to its original condition." There was something soothing about the old gentleman's voice that made the Jeep hopeful, and he wished it wasn't the pickup truck they were talking about. "There it is," said his owner, "Behind the old pickup." The old man placed his hand gingerly on the old jeep's faded hood, mesmerized. "One of these saved my life once, back in the war," he said quietly, "...been in love with them ever since, but I never had the time to restore one until now that I've retired." There was something oddly familiar about that melancholic voice, but the old Jeep could not place it. "It's in better shape than I thought it would be...how much do you want for it?" said the old man, walking slowly around him and peering curiously underneath. "Why don't we talk about it inside, over a cup of coffee? It's cold out here", said his owner, and the two men walked away.
A half hour later, his owner started him up, and the old engine shook and backfired its disagreement. Slowly, he was driven up onto a trailer hitched to a big Suburban. The old man pulled some ratchet straps out of the back of the truck and began securing him to the trailer. The old Jeep couldn't believe it when a brand new tarp was placed over him and tied firmly in place, muffling the sound of the voices around him. "Grandpa, when you're done fixing it, can I ride in it with you?" He heard a young girl say; nobody had shown this excitement about him in decades, and it made the old Jeep feel good. Just like those young soldiers so many years ago, here was someone who really appreciated him. "Well, it was a pleasure doing business with you", his old owner said, "I hope you enjoy your Jeep, Mr. Jones." "Please," the old man answered back with a smile, "call me Jonesy, everyone does........"
This story is dedicated to all those young soldiers of World War II, who fought and died all over the world to preserve democracy for the rest of us.
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