Butler VA Health Care System
Jeeps to be saluted on their 70th anniversary
August 5, 2011
More than 20 World War II veterans from Butler County met in the VA Butler Healthcare Auditorium, alongside former Steeler and master of ceremonies Rocky Bleier, in preparation for the Bantam Jeep Fest next weekend.
Jeeps were invented by a Butler company, American Bantam Car, when the federal government challenged car companies to make a vehicle multidimensional enough to be used in both combat and on military bases.
Many larger car companies, such as Ford, tried to win the contract. But the tiny American Bantam was the only company able to complete the challenge in the short period of time allotted by the government.
The companies had to complete a prototype in 49 days and were given another 75 days to build 70 vehicles.
Damian Hambley, commander of the Slippery Rock VFW and American Legion is a Korean War vet who saw firsthand the transformation the jeep has made through the years.
"In World War II they were used by everyone," he said. "When I served, you only saw jeeps being used to drive around officers."
Dennis Bogan, who served in the Navy for three years in the Pacific during World War II and fought in the Battle of Okinawa, recalled his first time driving a jeep as one of his more humorous moments during the war.
According to Bogan, the ship he was on was damaged by a typhoon and forced to dock in Portland, Ore.
"We were the largest ship in the ship yard," said Bogan, 87, of Penn Township.
Bogan said one of his jobs was driving military correspondence from the ship to the Navy headquarters in downtown Portland.
"Another soldier and I were selected to drive the copies to the building, twice a day," he said. "I hadn't driven a car in almost two years, and was a little nervous, so I told him to drive. He looked back at me with a nervous grin and told me he had never driven before."
On his way back from downtown, Bogan and his comrade were summoned to the deck immediately.
"I didn't think we did anything wrong, but I was still nervous," he said. "They just wanted us to drive the captain and his wife to dinner. Boy, was I relieved."
Bogan's was just one of many stories that could be heard from World War II veteran's about early experiences with jeeps.
"We're honoring our World War II vets because they were the first people to use the cars," said Patti Jo Lambert, event director for Bantam Jeep Fest.
"These veterans are very passionate about their stories."
Bleier, a Vietnam veteran, offered the opening remarks. "I'm proud to be here," he said. "It's an honor to be able to recognize the Greatest Generation."
It's all in the name
The origins of the jeep name are highly debated in jeep enthusiast circles.
"There are many theories, but none of them have been proven as the absolute origin," Lambert said.
The most common theory of the origins of the word "jeep" stems from a story that says the vehicle sported the letters "GP," for general purpose.
When one says the two letters together, it would phonetically read jeep.
One of the more fun theories is that users of the jeep were so awed by the vehicle that they named it after the "Popeye" cartoon character "Eugene the Jeep." In Popeye's world, a jeep was an animal that was small in stature but was capable of doing any task.
Bantam Jeep Fest
Bantam Jeep Fest is going to be an event recognizing all things jeep, according to Lambert.
"This is going to be one great big celebration of Butler as the birthplace of jeep," she said.
Lambert said the festivities will kick off Aug. 21 when over 1,200 jeeps -- from 28 states -- will parade through downtown Butler in an attempt to break the Guinness world record for the largest jeep parade.
The festivities then move to the Big Butler Fair Grounds, Aug. 22 and 23, where a festival-type atmosphere will greet attendees.
"We're going to have a 'jeep playground,'" she said.
The "playground" will feature an off-road course that drivers can test their jeeps on.
"We'll also have bands, a jeep show, historical displays and tons of activities for children," she said.
For more information about Bantam Jeep Fest visit www.bantamjeepfestival.com.