Tech 4 John Bochnicka served during and after the close of WWII in Europe. As he was about to come home, he had the opportunity to buy the Jeep he’d been driving during his time in the Army. After making the surplus Jeep purchase, he made arrangements to have it shipped back to the United States where he used it around his Indiana farm for many years.
ALL IN THE FAMILY
While still in Germany, John and his wife welcomed a son to their family whom they named John Peter (“John P.”). The boy would grow up with the Jeep on the family’s Indiana farm
Many years later, John P.’s wife, Holly, recognized the strong tradition in the family. She assembled several family scrapbooks that document the family’s history, and in so doing, has preserveda glimpse into the history of their WWII Jeep.
The scrapbooks are filled pages of newspaper articles, photographs, cartoons, and that spans the life of the elder John, from his high school and college days through his time in the service. He had been an outstanding athlete for most of his life. Whether basketball, wrestling, football, or boxing, he excelled at them all.
Bochnicka, who was familiarly known as “Bock,” was the European Command Heavyweight Champion in 1948. He participated in the 1948 Army-Air Force Championship Tournament in Chicago. At that time, was asked to also participate in the US Olympic Trials, but he turned them down. He said time with his family was more important to him.
Bock’s Army career lasted for 10 years, 6 months, and a few days spanning WWII and the Korean War — Holly documented it all in the scrapbooks. In addition, among the records, were some carefully preserved items relating to the family’s Jeep.
Apparently, when it came time for Bock to have the Jeep shipped home, he wanted to make sure everything was in good working order. He madesure it had a new battery and a set of new tires. When it arrived in New York, however, it had none of those things! Bock wasn’t sure if the newly acquired bald tires would make the trip back home to the Indiana farm, but he decided to make the attempt.
Before leaving New York City, he stopped to ask a police officer for directions. With directions in hand, he drove around the city for hours, before he came across the same officer. He stopped and slipped the cop a dollar, saying, “Now how about giving the right directions to get out of here?” After the challenging trip, he finally made it out of town and headed for home in North Judson.
Back in Indiana, the Willys took on the role of “farm jeep”and pulled corn wagons, stumps, and whatever else seemed to be appropriate for a farm vehicle. It was the vehicle that some kids learned how to drive in. It had a long and useful life before eventually beingretired to the barn — where it sat for years.
Meanwhile, Bock’s son, John P., had joined the Army in 1964 and served as an MP in France and Germany until 1968. When he returned home, the Jeep was still in the barn. Soon thereafter, he made arrangements with his Dad to take ownership of the Willys.
Eventually, John P. made the decision to restore the Willys to the grand military vehicle it had been when his father drove it all over Europe. In 2011, John P. made arrangements with Dan Gumz of North Judson, Ind., to take on the project.
Two of Dan’s biggest restoration hurdles included the odd color someone had painted it years ago andthe engine. Sanding the paint just meant lots of hours. The original engine block, however, had cracked. Dan removed the engine and shipped it to Surplus City Jeeps Parts in California for repair. They were able to do weld-repair the block and ship it back. So, the old Willys still retains its original motor.
With new paint and other restorative touches (including the invasion star on the hood), the glory and grandeur of John “Bock” Bochnicka’s past has indeed been reclaimed. Today, John P. proudly drives his Dad’s Jeep in parades and and displays it at vintage vehicle shows — a retirement perfectly fitting for such a meaningful piece of history. — Daniel Gumz and Brenda Wendt