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History lovers restore, rebuild military vehicles

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Anna Marie Lux
Monday, July 17, 2017

MILTON -- Jon Jennings is about to become best friends with a thick manual that explains how the World War II vehicle in his farm shed is put together.

He plans to take apart and restore an M2 halftrack, which was used to move troops and supplies.

“It will be just like it was in 1941,” Jennings said.

Eventually, he plans to show it at WWII re-enactments and historical displays and in parades.

The 22-year-old Jennings is passionate about history, especially military history.

He organized a memorial walk to honor the 75th anniversary of the Bataan Death March earlier this year. He also organized a float depicting the flag-raising at Iwo Jima in the 2016 Janesville Memorial Day parade.

Jennings now is helping organize a family-friendly military show at the Janesville VFW on Saturday, July 22. The show will feature encampments of many periods, including the Revolutionary War, Civil War, World War I and World War II as well as Vietnam, Korea and Desert Storm.

It is too soon for Jennings to bring the halftrack, which he hopes to have restored by October 2018.

But the Milton-area man will use the 20-foot truck, weighing about 18,000 pounds, as a teaching tool in the future.

“Restoring it is almost a community-service project,” Jennings said, “so people can understand military history. Every piece of equipment has a story.”

SHIPPED FROM WEST COAST

Jennings bought the historic vehicle from a private collector in California for $9,600 and had it shipped on a flatbed to his farm. Among other things, the vehicle will get new tracks, new brakes and an authentic olive-drab paint job.

On a recent morning, Jennings walked alongside the M2, a rear track-driven armored truck with a wheeled front axle.

Enthusiasm filled his voice as he talked about its storied past.

During WWII, the U.S. Army and Marines used the truck in North Africa, Europe and the Pacific. Over time, the M2 saw revisions, which included improvements to its machine-gun mounts, armor protection and drive train.

The halftrack is not the only historical vehicle he owns.

Jennings drives a 1931 Chevy, built in Janesville and possibly assembled in part by his great-grandfather who worked there. The Chevrolet Special features swooping fenders, bullet-shaped headlights and art-deco rope handles inside.

Jennings also farms, works as a diamond consultant and recently was elected a Milton town supervisor.

The 2012 Milton High School graduate looks forward to many hours of working on the halftrack.

He is motivated by a strong desire to share it.

“I want to let people look at something they normally would not see,” he said. “I want to relive the history.”

Jennings is not alone in his desire to restore old military equipment.

The Military Vehicle Preservation Association has 8,000 members around the world. They are military vehicle enthusiasts, historians and collectors.

Jennings does not belong to the group. Instead, he refers to himself as “home-based.”

“Guys like myself do this because we love the history,” he said. “This is a special history you don't see every day.”

A DESIRE TO SHARE

Larry Splinter is another history lover. He built a 1942 Chevrolet G506 troop carrier from the parts of three vehicles.

The Janesville man finished the project seven years ago and now enjoys driving the WWII vehicle to military shows and even some car shows.

“I did all the work outside under a car port,” Splinter said. “I can say I touched every nut and bolt on the truck. It took me three years to finish.”

Splinter also has a sizable collection of WWII memorabilia, including uniforms, guns, helmets and canteens, which he will bring to the VFW military show.

He enjoys showing the items because they make people remember stories of their past.

“I call it pricking the memory,” Splinter said. “A piece of equipment will bring back something they haven't thought about in years.”

The 63-year-old said men of his generation had fathers who fought in WWII or Korea.

“Our dads were our heroes,” Splinter said.

The number of WWII vets has dwindled, but he said there still is an overwhelming interest in military items from the era.

The retired General Motors worker said he has collected things his whole life.

But the items have little meaning if they never come out of storage.

“I enjoy this,” Splinter said. “But I also want to share these things with the public.”



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