Heroes to life
Published: June 18, 2007 | 6380th good news item since 2003
It couldn’t happen.
Ellensburg resident Dave Wakefield found a 1942 Chevrolet World War II truck buried up to its axle in dirt with grass growing around the tires in a field in Ellensburg.
It was old and forgotten, once a symbol of freedom and sacrifice, now just an abandoned work truck. There was no way Wakefield could bring it back to life.
But reviving history is what Dave Wakefield is all about.
After fixing a minor electrical component, Wakefield fired up the engine. It turned over after four tries, but he didn’t have a tractor to haul it out.
He waited for a couple of days, hoping to find a tractor. He couldn’t wait any longer. He returned to the truck with friend Rick Sample and started the engine again. The truck had a full bed of gravel as Wakefield gritted his teeth, popped the clutch and yelled “Holy cow, hang on.”
The truck lurched forward, shedding years of neglect, and ambled onto the highway where Wakefield drove it home. Even the headlights still worked.
For Wakefield, restoring WWII vehicles is more than a hobby, it’s an honor.
“It’s kind of an adventure. Like being an archaeologist and finding a historical treasure you can share with others,” he said.
Wakefield owns an array of WWII military vehicles, all in various stages of restoration. He said he spends hours in research to restore them according to military standards of the day. He looks at pictures, watches military campaign footage and even studies paint color all to honor the heroes who defended America’s freedom.
“Every time you restore one, it’s like going back in time. When you sit and look at it, you can feel what the troops did for our freedom,” he said.
Wakefield is very attuned to the details.
When he enters his 1943 Burma Jeep in parades, he dresses in military uniforms, which he also collects, to match the time period.
“Dave doesn’t believe in doing anything halfway,” said VFW Post Commander and Vietnam veteran Gene Ketzenberg. “He does everything the best he can, that’s the kind of gentleman he is.”
A clean vehicle is out of the question.
“I don’t think there ever was a vehicle that was spotless,” Wakefield said.
In one parade, Wakefield felt uncomfortable because the jeep was too clean. He found a mud puddle and splashed through it for a genuine look. He felt better after that and some veterans got a good chuckle out of it too.
“They never went on patrol in a clean vehicle,” Wakefield defended himself.
His Burma Jeep was used as a troop transporter, Wakefield discovered. It would carry six soldiers on “seats that would beat the reputation right off your back,” Ketzenberg said.
Two sat in front, one driving and one navigating. Two more would pile in the middle row facing the windshield. These soldiers carried ammunition. The last two would climb in the back facing out the back window. They were the first ones out of the vehicle because they carried the machine gun and tripod and needed to set up quickly. The ammunition soldiers followed them out
Wakefield graduated from Central Washington University in 1989 and remembers taking several history classes during his tenure, but it was just words on a page to him then. Since he began restoring WWII vehicles, history has come alive.
“You can read history in a book,” Wakefield said. “But until you get your hands on something people have used 60 years ago, you don’t know the true depth of its impact.”
Wakefield received a real-life history lesson at a Veteran’s Day parade in 2001.
Dressed in his appropriate WWII military uniform, Wakefield drove to pick up five WWII veterans who would ride with him in the jeep through the parade.
When he stopped the jeep, two veterans hopped in back, facing the back and two jumped in the middle facing the windshield without thinking. It was like they had done it a million times, it was right out of the history books.
“Some of these guys have their ghosts, but for others, it brings back a cohesiveness,” Wakefield said. “It reminds them of their buddies, fallen and otherwise and that’s what (the jeep) is supposed to represent.”
For Wakefield, to see history come alive, to see with his own eyes what history books merely told him was reward for all of his hard work.