Five Favorite Veterans

Jeep Rocks and Road Tour 2
A veteran in its own right. Photo by Randy Stern

Tomorrow…Monday is Veteran's Day.

It is the day we remember those who have fallen in the name of duty and honor. Our nation sent many into battle for the defense of democracy – right or wrong. Your political stance may vary.

Yet, we cannot diminish the efforts of our fallen. Nor can we discount those who returned from their obligation to the nation. Every time we send our forces to defend our honor, we pray for their return. Upon the close of the mission, we enjoy peace and tranquility. It is a cycle we endeavor as a nation.

To honor our fallen, those serving in our forces and our veterans who have returned, this Five Favorites looks at the instruments of war and defense – whether under our Department of Defense or in other battles elsewhere on this planet.

We salute you today with this list:

THE ORIGINAL "JEEP": Before it became a household name, the Department of War was looking for a reconnaissance vehicle that was small, stealthy and agile under any conditions. The first vehicle to fulfill this mission was from a small car specialist named American Bantam. The Reconnaissance Vehicle they built was right for duty, but the War Department felt that American Bantam was too small of a firm to build the vehicle in the numbers they would need. The other bidder for the same vehicle was Willys-Overland. Their Quad prototype looked similar to the Bantam and offered even better performance in meeting the War Department's specifications. The job not only went to Willys, but to Ford in producing the same vehicle and offsetting production between the two firms. Ford's Pygmy soon became the GPW, while Willys-Overland made the MB – all at an 80-inch wheelbase with four-wheel drive. However, a twist in history helped build a legend during World War II. The GPW and MB all became one nomenclature – Jeep. Willys trademarked that four-letter word, despite derived from Ford's designation. At the end of WWII, Ford went back to building normal cars and trucks, while Willys turned their MB into a civilian recreational vehicle. That civilian would become a worldwide legend.

DODGE WC: Though the Jeep was seen as the vehicular hero of WWII, we often forget that Chrysler had its own workhorse to keep troops, arms and supplies going through both Europe and the Pacific. The company was contracted by the War Department to make a series of light duty trucks for various applications. The prior VC series was considered thanks to its four-wheel drive system, powerful engines and reliability. For the war, Chrysler developed a new series to fit the War Department's needs: The WC. The result was a formula that encompassed seven different engines and a dizzying array of applications – ranging from recon vehicles to ambulances. The Jeep may have been the most versatile instrument of war for the allies, the Dodge WC worked harder to keep the world from going into further chaos. Just like the Jeep, the WC saw civilian duty after the war – as the Power Wagon. WC's remained on the job for the Korean conflict, providing the same support in the South.

LAND ROVER: Did you know that the original Land Rover was developed on a Willys Jeep platform? The vehicle, now called the Defender, was inspired by the Jeep for the British forces to utilize it for the same purpose – troop transport and recon missions. By 1948, the LR showed up and was looking for a battle to fight. Instead, they were part of the effort to rebuild Europe after WWII. Like the Willys/Kaiser/AMC Jeep, LR created a wagon/troop carrier version on a longer wheelbase with four doors and plenty of space – the 109 and 110. These were the ones that did all of the heavy lifting over the decades – including its presence on the streets of Belfast during The Troubles. Today's Defender serving the British forces is now called the Wolf – a stronger version of the civilian version with a more simplified diesel engine. The Wolf has already seen action in Iraq and Afghanistan alongside the American HMMWV.

TOYOTA HI-LUX: This is an interesting story, because the Hi-Lux pickup was never intended for military use. They are indeed reliable, tough and rugged. They can survive anything, anywhere. Not to mention they are sold in every country on the planet in numbers too big to ignore. In places where armed conflicts occur, rebels, mercenaries and low-budget armies alike use Toyota's pickups for the same reasons as the Jeep and HMMWV. They carried guerilla troops, arms, and supplies swiftly and without regard to conditions. There is also a simpler rule to follow: The older the Hi-Lux, the better. As for its military record, consider how many civil wars, coup d'etats and rebellions occurred in the past few decades. The Toyota's record is mixed, since in some cases, both sides of the conflict used them. No matter what – the Toyota wins every time.

HMMWV – The Jeep served it purpose from WWII through Vietnam. When it came time for the Department of Defense to review military transport, it decided it needed something more armored. It needed further protection for personnel inside the vehicle when going on recon missions to battle front operations. The design of the next generation field transport went to AM General, a firm that was part of American Motors – the soon-to-be former owner of Jeep. It was to be the symbol of Reagan's military might in hopes of ending an old enemy of his – Communism. The vehicle was revealed – and it was huge. As large and uncomfortable as the HMMWV, it served through the Gulf War and the post-9/11 missions worldwide. However, it went into civilian use in the wake of the Gulf War. AM General found some buyers of the expensive Humvee who liked its prowess off-road – most notably Arnold Schwarzenegger. The Hummer was born – in transition between military and civilian duty. AM General still makes the HMMWV, but not for civilian use anymore.

NOTE: This will be the final Five Favorites posting. Personal reflection pieces will have a new name…coming soon!

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