By on July 4, 2012

D-Day (June 6 1944) was a turning point in WW II. 160,000 Allied ground troops hit the beach that day and casualties were high.

This Willys Jeep survived that day.

The two key experiences in the world of automotive journalism are seeing an old vehicle in person and learning about that vehicle through a question and answer session. This Jeep was magic in both areas.

It’s hard to explain how humbling it was to actually climb around this Jeep, because there is such a sense of history contained in this unassuming vehicle. 99 out of 100 Jeeps are a “tribute” to the real battle machines and typically, they’ll be based on a vehicle that saw no combat duty. The equipment is historically correct, but the result is more like a 440 6 pack stuffed under the hood of a 1970 Satellite that came with a 318.

This Jeep is a documented “on the beaches of Normandy” survivor in the truest sense of the word, because many of these land vehicles were targeted and sunk long before they hit dry land. Those that did make it to shore became target practice, so the odds were against this Jeep the day it was loaded on the transport in England.

Anyone with a smattering of history is profoundly humbled by the knowledge that a lot of guys who saw this Jeep in action didn’t make it back.

Stew Geekie is the current owner/caretaker of this incredible piece of history. He owes it to a combination of diplomacy and luck as he explained,

“I already had a few Willys and my wife told me I didn’t need another Jeep so I told her Valentine’s Day and her birthday was coming up so now she tells everybody it’s her Jeep.”

Stew is well connected in the vintage Willys world, and one of his goals was to own a 2nd World War Jeep. Three years ago a colleague aimed him at one in Washington State with an impressive history.

The last owner was an airline pilot with some idiosyncratic hobbies. He collected cars and weapons in no particular order, so when his family had an estate auction in California, many of his weapons were turned back at the border because they were illegal. Happily, the Jeep came back to Washington too because the reserve wasn’t met.

That’s where Stew entered the picture. The pilot’s estranged family had no interest in the Jeep, and they were three days away from selling his property. The property itself was a three level house with 3600 square feet on each level. It had vehicles on every level including Mustangs and exotic sports cars, but the Jeep was stuffed in the basement beside the indoor rifle range.

Stew admitted, “I got it on a bit of a fire sale because they had to get rid of it and they only had 3 days. I was in the right place at the right time.” He wasn’t sure whether it was his wife Donna’s birthday or anniversary present but he is sure that “it’s her Jeep.”

Stew is a detail guy, so he’s a bipedal encyclopedia about this Jeep’s history. The first thing he pointed out was the broken circle around the star on the hood. He explained: “That broken circle means it was at Normandy.”

He then went into detail on this Jeep. The rifle scabbard dated back to the Civil War:

“They used it right up to World War II. That’s the same scabbard that the Cavalry would have used in the Civil War, Battle of Little Big Horn and World War One. The only difference is that it’s on a Jeep, not a horse.”

The gas tank is under the driver’s seat, and Stew outlined the problems with that design:

“The Germans knew where the tank was so the used to shoot at it and light up the Jeep and the driver. Plus the driver had to get out to fuel the Jeep because you had to lift the seat so they used to grumble about that.”

Later on they figured out how to solve the problem as Stew said, “They moved the pioneer tools, the axe and the pick, to the passenger side so then they could fuel it like NASCAR with a filler tube and the driver didn’t have to move. The only time he had to move after that was to grab a map or blanket because they used to stuff them under the seat for padding.”

This Jeep saw night duty because it has the blackout lights. Stew explained how those worked:

“They traveled in convoy and basically all they could see was 2 feet in front so they drove by feel. They had a way of triangulating the point where the lights met so they could judge distance so you say the point met at 50 feet, 25 feet, whatever they adjusted them to judge distance between vehicles.”

General Patton was obsessed with stealth operations, so he insisted on the no-reflection rule. That meant several things including draping the burlap camouflage over the roof and on the glass. Stew was extremely proud of the burlap because, as he explained, “that stuff disappeared after the war, it’s pretty hard to find.”

GIs had another way to get by the reflection rules. Stew said,” They traveled with the windshield down so they could get a shot away without glass in the way but the Germans figured that out too, so they strung wire across the road at a neck high level. That’s why that big wire cutter led the way.”

The Jeep had another link to the past in the form of a water bag. Stew explained, “These were used by the Calvary to feed their horses, but by 1944 they were used to haul water for radiators.”

The fire extinguisher is another piece of history. Stew explained, “They used carbon tetrachloride back then, it’s extremely banned now.”

Handles were another feature on these Willys Jeeps, and any veteran can tell you how many times they lifted one of these little mules out of mess.

Stew explained why this Jeep stayed in Europe after the war:

“They gave a lot of their surplus equipment to the Allies after the war, so this one ended up in France. In 1961 it was completely rebuilt on a French assembly line. They’d send it in at one end as a worn out Jeep and it would come out the other end as a Jeep. There’s a plaque on the dash that gives all the details.”

Surprisingly, Stew has never driven the Jeep any distance because he’s too tall. He explained, “The average soldier was only 5 foot 7 in World War II so the pedals are too high for me and I have trouble getting behind the wheel easily and the shift lever gets in the way.”

The last stop for the Jeep was the Philippines and that’s where the travels ended for this historical little workhorse. Stew pointed to the registration plaque and added, “It came home after that.”

That brought this icon of World War II full circle and fortunately this Normandy Jeep is in the hands of a knowledgeable and skilled caretaker.

It deserved it.

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18 Comments on “Car Collector’s Corner: This WWII Willy’s Jeep Is a Documented D-Day Survivor...”

  • avatar

    I don’t really see anything in the story that proves that this particular Jeep was in Normandy on D-Day. Proof would include the original serial number and documentation from the DoD (War Department) or US Army indicating which unit it was assigned to on June 6, 1944 and which ship it landed from. A painted on star in a broken circle is too easy to forge and would be a good way for a knowledgeable person to increase the value of an old Jeep.
    Please get some more detail from the current owner.

    • 0 avatar

      I didn’t know that this blog was about proving the provenance of vehicles like this. I’m sure the author saw many things and spoke of many things he didn’t write about in his short article.

      I would feel safe believing that this one has been documented considering the known history of also being in France and the Philippines.

      Regardless of all that.

      If true, I have to wonder at what the dollar value of something like this is, to me it’s extremely cool and something I would love to own myself.

    • 0 avatar

      The broken circle is just a simple aerial recognition marking, and was on every single jeep that ever was in a combat zone- and many that weren’t. that the circle is broken is NOT a D-day symbol, it is just one of a few variations of the markings used over the course of the war.

      So I have no doubt it may be real, but it’s like saying the jeep has a spare tire on the back so it must have been at Normandy.

  • avatar

    Please more – the most fascinating part of the story, the fact that this jeep landed on D-Day – just how was that documented? That seems like it would be very interesting in itself.

  • avatar

    Whether it was or wasn’t at Normandy, it is an important part of history, and our involvement in WWII. I’m sure that with all the vin plates and original tags still on the vehicle, verifying the owner’s claim would be fairly easy to do. I can just imagine what this Jeep would go for at Barrett-Jackson if the claims are verified…

    Very cool write-up, thanks!

  • avatar

    The owner had full documentation that his Jeep was the real deal when he bought it from the estate.He is a founding member of an antique Willys club and we leaned heavily toward the idea that the owner and Jeep were legitimate when we interviewed him.

  • avatar

    My Grandfather was especially proud of the fact that he managed to drive the same Jeep all the way from Normandy (he landed on June 17th 1944) to Germany. He was in the Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineers (REME) – 11th Armoured Division. I remember him telling me that the winter of 1944/1945 was the worst time to drive a Jeep, as even with the canvas hood up, there was no heater. I think this is what earned them the nickname ‘Pneumonia Wagons’.

  • avatar
    Austin Greene

    I have two uncles who died in Normandy June 1944.

    Corporal Michael Makichuk, Royal Winnipeg Riffles, Age 23, Died of Enemy Wounds, June 6, 1944, Juno Beach.

    Flying Officer Tony Negrich, Royal Canadian Air Force, Age 22, Killed by Friendly Fire, June 30, 1944, Ferme Aubrée.

    God rest their young souls.

    If this Jeep made it back then it had far better luck than my family did.

    • 0 avatar

      Hello Mr. Greene,

      My father was also related to Tony Negrich (he has recently begun researching Tony’s life and sad death) and would be keenly interested to correspond with you.

      Would you kindly reply to me so that I might put you two in contact? You could write to me at [email protected] — I look forward to hearing from you.

      Thank you.

      J. Lodge

  • avatar

    I know it doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things, but it’s one of the few things that really gets to me in both speech and print…

    The word you’re looking for is “cavalry,” not “Calvary.”

    The former is the military on horseback, the latter is a biblical hill.

    Hopefully someone learned something today.

  • avatar

    Awesome 4th of July story! Thanks for sharing.

    My wife’s grandfather was to be apart of D-Day, however the ship he was on broke down before leaving and they showed up two weeks late. He however saw a lot of fighting, and in fact would rarely talk about it, other then to point at pictures of his friends that didn’t make hit home.

    Jim was a good, decent, hardworking man.

  • avatar

    Jerry batted 500 on the spelling of cavalry in the story, thanks for pointing out the mistake. I lost out to him in a Grade 6 spelling bee many years ago and even now I get a measure of satisfaction whenever he makes a mistake.

  • avatar

    Love to see such collections i am a proud fan of jeeps and knowing more about them helps me a lot because my friends just consider me a car crazy guy and all i do is visit blogs like this learn more and increase my knowledge.

  • avatar

    Have a 43 GPW, drive it all over the place. Runs like a champ, wife loves it. GPW 135024. Only thing not original is the T90 transmission

  • avatar
    History Nut

    That is an impressive piece of history. As an artifact it is beyond value although the part about the collector who previously owned it, points out the problem for the collector. If you collect true historical artifacts, you should make provisions for their proper disposal or your family may just send them to the town dump or junkyard.

    Some of the statements regarding the details are a little off though. I suspect that it is more the error of interpretation by the author rather than the owner.

    The rifle scabbard as a piece of military equipment does pre-date our American Civil War(how can a war be civil?) however, that particular scabbard design dates from just prior to WWII. More pertinately the American Cavalry has horses until 1943 and the last mounted charge occured in the Phillipines in early 1942.

    The statement about the fuel tank and the driver having to get out of the seat to fuel is somewhat humorous. In the Army, the driver fueled their own vehicle as “attendants” didn’t exist. The only places with “gas stations” were permanent stateside posts. In the field, fueling was done from 5-gallon cans. Occasionally, a fuel truck was available but mostly it was from containers that either exactly or closely copied the German 20-liter can. The external fuel filler arrived with the adoption of the M38 jeep in the mid-1950s.

    The “blackout lights” were on all military vehicles by the time of the Invasion. They were not applied by choice as the wording implies.

    The canvas bucket was common and not unique to use with horses.

    This is a nice article about a real piece of history that can be traced to the time and area of the Normandie invasion which makes it quite an artifact. I hope that the current owner has family that appreciate that so it won’t get ruined after he dies.

  • avatar

    Yup to above. Have to careful fueling, overfill and you spill, you got gas fumes for abit. Wife jams me on that. Don’t have the history on mine, last owner said it was on okinawa, nothing to indicate it though.

  • avatar

    Either someone mis understood something, or I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you. I have owned 2 WW2 jeeps, and have been writing about the US Army in WW2, with an emphasis on D-day (Spearheading D-day), and there is not one thing in this entire article that would make me think for a second that this jeep is a D-day vet. None, nada, zip. In fact there are things that would make me quite sure it was not. They did not bring jeeps back from Europe and reship them to the Pacific. Jeeps stayed there and went to various foreign nations, UNRRA, and eventually to civilians. The ONLY way to prove a jeep was there is a rock solid provenance, which would generally include finding the unit markings on the bumpers, which clearly this is not painted up as a D-day vehicle. The only known jeep that we know of that came in close to the landing is the ‘Vixen Tor’ General Gerhardt’s (29th Inf Div CO) which is housed in the 5th Regt Armory in Baltimore.

    Serial and registration number can’t be used to track a vehicle- they did not keep those records. There are cases of jeeps having a paper trail going back to where they were bought (and some did come from Europe privately), but those have paperwork.

    So whatever anyone may like to think- This is NOT a D-day jeep. I would be surprised if it was even in the ETO if it was found in the Phillipines. There’s a lot more that is wrong with the article, but I’ll assume the writer wasn’t listening very carefully.

    • 0 avatar

      I missed the French Army rebuild tag bit- so OK, it was in France. However if it was rebuilt, there’s no way to know if the hood, or bumper, or seat, or radiator were original to the vehicle, spare parts, or stripped off a scrapped vehicle.

      But again, there is NOT ONE THING in this article that even remotely hints that this keep was in Normandy. And if that is the title of the article it is kind of important.

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