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Story ID:4468
Written by:Kathe M. Campbell (bio, contact, other stories)
Story type:Musings, Essays and Such
Location:Butte Mt. USA
Person:The Vets
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The Veterans
by Kathe Campbell

Sometimes I wish our jeep could captivate me with gallant sagas of jouncing over the sands of war torn south pacific islands in the early 1940's. Or was she stateside on a military base being driven about by eager, young military personnel? Wherever or whatever her calling remains unknown. This family is just grateful she didn't ended up unheroicly in a vehicle bone yard, alone and naked, succumbing to the tortures of a crusher or mother natures wrath.

While on a business trip, my husband, Ken, spotted the little topless relic out in a farmer's field twenty years after his discharge from the service. His heart fairly leapt with joy, despite her two flat tires, damaged racks and carriers, and original upholstery faded and torn. He yearned to see if she would start while noting signs of rust corroding the floor. Several months later the little veteran was still there, so Pops asked the farmer if he would consider selling her.

"Oh hell, man," the farmer growled, "just take her if you want her, I used her for awhile, but have no use for a jeep anymore."

Pops, a WWII veteran, was astounded. Here was a piece of history that should have been the pride and joy of anyone who revered their nation's valiant days, not left to unceremoniously decay. The American jeep symbolized patriotism, and owning one after wars end became a dream in the hearts and minds of thousands of veterans.

For years there were tales of crated Willys MBs or GPWs for $50, if you buy in bulk, that is. But that was, and still is, a myth. Yes, olive-drab jeeps were crated and sent around the world needing only tires and a battery for military use. But rarely, if ever, could one be attained by the public. Several organizations and dealers have made substantial reward offers for anyone who can produce a military jeep, but nobody has claimed the money. Of course not, one doesn't sell a precious member of the family.

Renting a tow bar, our Pops wasted no time bringing his pride and joy home to be sheltered and lovingly cared for. After years of new paint and parts, I occasionally proclaimed . . . "If Pops ever looked at me the way he ogles that little jeep, I'd be eternal putty in his hands."

Often the lone military vehicle behind the stars and stripes in local parades, men gushed over her restorations and the sound of her familiar Ford engine. And when it came time for small makeovers, she sat patiently while new seat pads were sewn, and a paint gun beautified her chassis, inside and out. Crazy combinations of leftover auto paint never went to waste in our garage.

Our move to Montana brought on hundreds of jeep adventures. At an early age, our three children, one by one, sat behind her steering wheel to learn how to clutch and floor shift on every dirt road. The vertical summits became scarier than anything they had encountered in their young lives. But with a carefully tended motor and good brakes, they soon learned they could depend upon the little lady's diverse collection of gears to keep them from harm's way.

Seeing bottom doesn't always mean a spring-fed quagmire is safe as I too depended wholly upon those gears and steered us to a watery doom - right over our hubs. Before stepping out into a sea of mud, Pops shook his head, delivered a disgruntled stare, then calmly announced, "He who drives - walks." "Sometimes it's better to go around rather than through," became my motto.

The two WWII veterans jostled us off onto favorite off-road game trails into wilderness that few other means could explore. A moose giving birth, a bald eagle pair feeding their young, cougars and foxes on the hunt, a black bear chasing our dog, and bull elk grunting and grating their majestic antlers. We spent lazy days of summers fishing, panning gold, photographing ghost towns, and when the leaves of autumn blanketed the mountains, my men hunted elk, moose, and venison. All that off-road exploring was good while it lasted, for new strict laws now keep all motorized vehicles off unspecified roadways.

She proudly carried her family and friends into unknown heights throughout the birth of spring on into Rocky Mountain storms, and with a good set of chains she willingly plowed through virgin snows in abrupt blizzards. Watching the guys drive her down off a snow-capped 10,000 foot ridge into our hunting camp, boasting a mountain curl horn or billy goat, was cause for great celebration. The very sight of such a prize cooling out in a tree, and the little jeep taking a much deserved rest, gave rise to envious visitors.

With children gone, it was time for Pops and I to shed our city digs. The decision to live in it, rather than looking at it, led us to luscious green acres atop a mountain only twenty minutes from town. Pops dug small nuggets from an ancient dry stream bed on our back forty, and nobody could convince him we weren't sitting on the mother lode. Not only did we have the mineral rights, but this was jeep country. Weeks later, the family over the top of our mountain unearthed the biggest nugget in Montana's history, and despite my glittering doubts, we became obsessed. For years the little lady's engine echoed up the draw while hauling tons of ore from "God's Folly" to our gold recovery outfit.

With age and arthritis taking its toll, Pops had grown too infirm to drive his beloved jeep any distance, or repair spent brakes. Instead, he often backed the lady out of the garage to let her bask in the sunshine while he and his dog just sat in her to reminisce great adventures. Where he reminded me that she should belong to our son, Tim, for these military veterans were a close threesome.

Only months prior, I was bitten by the camouflage fairy when I stripped the little lady down and treated her to a lovely new paint job. How immaculate and chic she was, completely in tune with her birthright, and our country's current fashion. Pops was so tickled to know I had taken up the gauntlet to revel in his legacy of caring for our beloved little girl.

Then that awful day in May, 2005 when the dog and I drove her into the garage for the last time, and I simply sat there bawling like a lost child. Our pops was gone, but the little jeep would live on.

Two months later, on a lovely July morning, Tim, arrived to invite one of our most revered family members to take part in this family's celebration of Pop's life. How beautifully and proudly she sat, allowing the grandchildren to play in her, helping us to recall so many joyous years together. It seemed so right.