By Mel and Maureen Persi
In 1946, my dad purchased a 1944 Ford GPW jeep from government surplus for $300. That started my love affair with the GPW since it was in that vehicle — at the age of 10 — that I taught myself how to drive. Since that time, I have longed to once again own a 1944 Ford GPW. That realization came true for me in July 2017.
I was able to purchase my 1944 Ford GPW from a woman in Wilmington, N.C. Her husband’s father, a retired officer in the U.S. Coast Guard, purchased the jeep on April 7, 1948, for $600. The jeep was used on a farm in Virginia for many years. Her husband inherited the jeep upon his father’s death in 1977. The jeep brought a great deal of joy to her husband before and after the death of his father.
My wife’s dear friend lived in Wilmington, and her husband was a former Army Honor Guard. When I became serious about purchasing the jeep, my wife asked her friend if her husband would check out the jeep for me. I felt he was a knowledgeable person to perform an inspection of the jeep. The day he arrived at the residence, it happened to be raining. When he rang the door bell to announce his arrival, the owner informed him that the jeep was in the barn and could not be taken out due to the inclement weather. So, our friend had to return on a clear day in order to inspect and drive the jeep. We are forever grateful to our friend for being able to drive and inspect the jeep. He told me it needed some work, but it was otherwise in very good condition.
After we transported the jeep from North Carolina, the fun of restoration began. We had folks from north to south restore our 1944 jeep. It received a new transmission, radiator and some engine components such as a new starter, generator, fuel pump and carburetor. We painted the entire jeep the authentic color and gave it five new tires. Presently, we are revamping the braking system. Next on the agenda is replacing the steering box and tire rods. Our hope is to restore the jeep back to its original 1944 condition and someday donate it to the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, La. According to our jeep’s serial number, we estimate that it was the 36,314th jeep manufactured in 1944. Its manufacturing date was August 1944.
We decided to dedicate our jeep to my wife’s deceased father, TSgt. Nicky Marzolla, a member of Company C, 397th Inf. Regiment, 100th Infantry Division, who on Nov. 21, 1944, was moving forward in the town of Moyenmoutier, France, when hostile troops within a building opened fire with machine guns and automatic weapons. TSgt. Marzolla seized an automatic rifle and by accurate fire, drove the enemy to cover. Later, he entered the building, killed 10 and cleared the approach to the objective. For the first time in history, an army crossed the Vosges mountain range. TSgt. Marzolla was seriously wounded in action. He was the recipient of two Bronze Medals, the Purple Heart and the Silver Star. We had all of his medals hand-painted under the windshield of the jeep in his honor.
We had the jeep back on the road in 2018, just in time for a Veterans Day parade. We have participated in every parade within our township since that date. This year, due to the pandemic, we held our own one-car parade and drove our restored jeep throughout our community on Memorial Day, Flag Day and July 4.
It is indeed heartwarming seeing the young and old sending admiring glances and salutes as we pass by.
*As an Amazon Associate, Old Cars earns from qualifying purchases.