Area group displays restored military vehicles at Capaha Park

Sunday, May 24, 2009
A military jeep from 1947 that was left in a field in Ill., and restored by Tom Meyer of Cape Girardeau. (ELIZABETH DODD ~ edodd@semissourian.)

A mobile museum of American military vehicle history will roll into Capaha Park on May 31.

The morning display of restored military vehicles, followed by an afternoon convoy down Broadway and back, will celebrate the SEMO Military Vehicle Group's recent designation as an affiliate of the Military Vehicle Preservation Association.

MVPA is an international organization for military vehicle enthusiasts, historians, preservationists and collectors interested in the acquisition, restoration, preservation and display of historic military transport.

Commander Tom Meyer said jeeps, two-and-a-half-ton transports and a 1940s ambulance and firetruck will be shown.

"Many of these vehicles were retired in the service and sold to the public or given to fire departments, and then after a while they decided to upgrade. Then they were sold out in auctions and private sales," Meyer said.

A military jeep from 1967 that purchased from Okla., and restored by Tom Meyer of Cape Girardeau. (ELIZABETH DODD ~ edodd@semissourian.)

Meyer bought his 1967 Ford/Mutt M151A1 quarter-ton jeep from a rancher in Oklahoma.

"It had been part of the military activities there. I came across it and bought it," he said. "They do get expensive when you start to restore them. A lot of these seem to have been in pretty high demand. But just about every rock you can crawl under you can find something."

What Meyer and a few locals found last year was a local interest in restored military vehicles. They decided to form an official group after the River City Rodders Car Show, where Meyer said they "found eight or nine people had military vehicles in the area." Meyer collected e-mail addresses and arranged a meeting.

"When we got together at the meeting, we got excited that other people were excited as we were," he said. "Up until that time we weren't sure that others had restored vehicles. Come to find out some of them have fully stocked military vehicles."

Meyer said about 20 people showed up and collectively had 32 or 33 restored military vehicles. People from all over Missouri, with vehicles acquired from all over the country, were interested in forming the group. In April, the group received a letter of recognition from the MVPA.

While the display will recognize the group's formal designation, it will also commemorate Memorial Day by respecting the military vehicles that furthered the American war effort.

Ivan Ellis, Steve Golden, Chris Strickland, Robert Clifton, Michael Penny and Steve Reece are some of the members who own a model of a "Willys" jeep, a name given to the vehicles during World War II because they were manufactured by Willys-Overland.

Mass production of the Willys-Overland jeep began in 1941 after the United States' declaration of war. The efficient and sturdy four-wheel-drive jeep was seen as a vehicle that couldn't be stopped. By the war's end in 1945, about 600,000 jeeps had rolled off the assembly lines and onto the battlefields.

Ellis said he likes sharing his restored 1950 Willys M38 quarter-ton jeep because people "enjoy them."

"Everybody knows a jeep, so it's kind of a conversation piece," he said. "It's enjoyable to see the end result."

Though Sunday marks the first official organized event for the SEMO Military Vehicle Group, many of the vehicles have rolled down Broadway for parades. parts

Meyer said about 25 percent of the group's members are war veterans, and four or five of them met through the SEMO Veterans Corp., a group for veterans returning to college as non-traditional students after the Vietnam War, in the late 1960s and early '70s.

"We're even using them for SEMO's homecoming parade," Meyer said.

He said he would have scheduled the event closer in conjunction with Memorial Day, but time conflicts developed as many of the members were coming from out of town. Regardless, he said the group hopes "to make it traditional year round around Memorial Day."

For more information about the SEMO Military Vehicle Group and the MVPA, visit www.mvpa.org.

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