by Steve Stark, photos by Susan Stark
Since purchasing my Jeep five years ago, it has been my privilege to escort many local veterans in area parades. These are great men whom I respect and feel a need to honor while we still can. Sadly, several of the veterans in my photos have recently passed away. Though I never served in the military (it is one of the things I regret most in my life), I decided to serve (or honor) those who HAVE served with these parade honor escorts. My grandfather served in WWI; my father in WWII; several of my uncles and my father-in-law served in the Korean War; and several high school friends served in Vietnam — these service men are all heroes to me.
PREPARING THE JEEP
My Jeep is a 1955 M38A1 and was in relatively good condition when I purchased it five years ago. I did do some painting, engine work (new head gasket), and replaced some civilian parts with correct military parts. The addition of the “Ma Deuce” (M2HB Browning machine gun) not only added “the coolness factor,” the gun also gives older veterans something to hold on to while they navigate themselves into that tiny rear seat! I always bring a 3-step folding ladder with wide steps and hand grips to make it easier for the elderly veterans to climb in and out of the jeep safely.
“We have faith that future generations will know here, in the middle of the twentieth century, there came a time when men of good will found a way to unite, and produce, and fight to destroy the forces of ignorance, and intolerance, and slavery, and war.”
— President Franklin D Roosevelt, February 12, 1943
TAKING A RIDE
The local VFW or American Legion Posts are invited to determine who they would like to honor in each parade. During the staging time prior to the parade, it has been my great privilege to hear these veterans recount stories of D-Day, Market Garden, the Battle of Chosin, the Bataan Death March, the Battle of Iwo Jima, the 10th Mountain Division, and liberating Nazi concentration camps. How wonderful to hear Marines joking with sailors and to be able to hear firsthand accounts of the experiences of a submariner, a chopper pilot, paratroopers as well as the double- and triple-Purple Heart recipients. It has been my experience that the veterans have really enjoyed and appreciated this special recognition. In all of the parades, crowds have stood and cheered as we drove past. People from the crowd have even run out and up to the jeep to shake the hands of the veterans. A few even get hugs and kisses.
Of course, I volunteer to do this. These veterans have so honorably and faithfully served us. Not only is it my obligation to serve them, it is my honor and my privilege to do so. I am in awe of these heroes.