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Broken parts and heart attacks, historic Jeep restored in honor of WW II vet
Garry Hisel (right) collects and restores military vehicles. He and his son-in-law Jeff Kirkhoff (left) restored this Jeep and surprised Garry’s father, a World War II veteran, over the 4th of July weekend this year by bringing it down to Georgetown, Ky. for him to drive in the parade.
Garry Hisel had to race to get his 89-year-old father’s surprise completed in time for the 4th of July.
The 60-year-old Jasper resident and his son-in-law Jeff Kerkhoff where working as fast as they possibly could to finish restoring a 1954 M38A1 Jeep in time for his dad to drive it in the Georgetown, Ky., 4th of July parade.
Garry didn’t originally buy the Jeep to honor his dad. He is the president of the River City Thunderbolt MVCC, a military vehicle collectors club headquartered in Evansville, and a Jeep enthusiast. He wanted to restore it to add to his collection. A collection that includes a huge 5-ton military cargo truck easily seen while driving along Kluemper Dr.
The Jeep the day Garry picked it up. Garry declined to comment on how much money had been invested in the restoration. “I probably better not if I want to live,” he joked.
The Jeep he found on Craigslist was in pretty rough shape, but he was able to find another Jeep of the same model to strip for parts. Between the two, he and Jeff were able to piece together one working Jeep.
The years stretched on as he and Jeff completely restored the Jeep in their spare time. Other than the paint and body work, the two worked on most of the vehicle.
One day it occurred to Garry that the Jeep was originally issued for use by the U.S. Navy at Crane Naval Base and an idea began to form. “I decided to restore it to a Navy Jeep in honor of my father,” he said.
Garry’s father, Sidney Hisel, who turns 90 in December, volunteered at 17 years old to serve in World War II in 1944. He joined the Navy to follow his father who had volunteered and was serving in the Seabees (Construction Battalion) at the time. With his mother gone — she died when he was about six years old — the Lexington, Ky., native who had been raised by his grandparents decided it was his duty to serve.
After boot camp he was station on the USS Bellerophon, a landing ship, tank — or LST — that had just been commissioned in Chicago. He joined it in Seneca, Ill. and traveled down the Mississippi River to the Gulf and then to Mobile, Ala., where it was recommissioned as a landing craft repair ship.
Originally designed to carry 18 Sherman tanks, the Navy redesignated it as a landing craft repair ship with the hull number AR-31. With the new mission, the deck designed to hold the tanks was converted into a repair shop that, according to Mr. Hisel, could make parts for just about anything. By Official US Navy photo taken from http://www.navsource...19/10193101.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wiki...?curid=11961704
The Bellerophon steamed out of Mobile for the Panama Canal to serve in the Pacific Theatre. It headed up to San Francisco where her crew assisted in repairing ships damaged by the Japanese kamikaze fighters.
Mr. Hisel, a Signalman Third Class, remained on the ship in San Francisco until it was time for the Bellerophon to head out to Hawaii. By then, his enlistment was complete. “I remember crossing the Oakland Bay Bridge and seeing her leave as I was heading out to return home,” he said.
Later in life, Mr. Hisel volunteered aboard the LST-325 after it was converted to the LST Memorial Ship which is now located in Evansville. Garry credits his father’s connection with LST-325 as what influenced his love for restoring military vehicles. “When they moved the LST from Mobile to Evansville in 2005, he got the captain to allow my brother and I to be part of the crew to bring it up the Mississippi River,” Garry said.
As the ship made its way up the river, Garry and his brother performed various duties. When they were off duty, they would work on restoring the old ship. After it arrived in Evansville, he volunteered to serve on the board for the historic attraction on the riverfront. He became further enamored with historic military vehicle preservation and took part in the commission that brought the Military Vehicle Preservation Association International Convention to Evansville in 2009 beating out Los Angeles and Louisville.
This new hobby had brought Garry to that Jeep and he wanted to give his father a chance to ride in it. “The bottom line is that I wanted to finish this while my dad was still living,” he said. “I wanted to be able to take him rides in it and let him drive it.”
The two had thought they could get it completed in time for the Four Freedoms Veterans Parade in Evansville last November but a cracked engine block waylaid that plan. The two didn’t find a lot of time to work on the Jeep over the winter as it sat in Garry’s unheated garage but when the weather turned warmer, the two dug into the project with plans to have it done in time for the parade.
Then on May 18, Garry had a heart attack. “I was in the hospital and I looked at my wife and said I didn’t think we were going to make it,” he explained.
But after Garry got out of the hospital, Jeff, a mechanic at Uebelhor & Sons, told him he had some vacation days he could take and he would make sure the Jeep got done in time.
“Every waking minute, we were working on that Jeep,” Garry said.
It got done.
“I was putting on the finishing touches four hours before we revealed it to dad,” Garry added.
Garry had asked his father if they could wait till the 4th of July to celebrate Father’s Day the same weekend and he had agreed to wait.
“We did a big 4th of July dinner at my brother’s house,” Garry said. “Then we had a short presentation about the sacrifices of our family’s military service and the family history.”
He then presented the Jeep to his father. “We had it hidden and pulled it out for him to see,” Garry said.
The Jeep is painted in the traditional U.S. Navy gray and features the hull number of the USS Bellerophon on the front bumper. Sidney’s World War II service number is painted on the hood as well.
It was an overwhelming moment for Mr. Hisel. “They completely blindsided me,” he said. “To think that he thought enough of me to do that for me, well, I have trouble talking about it. I don’t have words to describe it. To have a son that thinks that much of me, I just can’t describe it.”
Sidney and Gladys, his wife of 67 years this month, rode in the back seat of the Jeep in the 4th of July parade with Garry and Jeff in front. “People were waving at me and every once in awhile someone would run out from the curb and shake my hand,” he said. “I accepted all of that in honor of those that never came back.”
The Jeep will be driven in the Strassenfest Parade in August.