A little piece of history rolled into Ballinamuck last Thursday morning as Patrick McDonagh drove his World War II American Willys Jeep from 1942 onto the grounds of St Patrick's National School for the children to admire.
Many thousands of similar jeeps parachuted onto the beaches of Normandy, France, on June 6, 1944, and, while Patrick says he can't be 100% certain that his jeep was on the beaches that day, it did serve in France and it seems likely that it was among those vehicles used on what has historically been known as D-Day.
“I’ve always been interested in having one of these jeeps and I looked everywhere trying to get one and I found this one in Drogheda of all places,” Patrick told the Longford Leader last week.
“She was in a storage container and wasn’t in great shape but I took her and started to renovate her. That was about five years ago and I always planned to have it ready for the 75th D-Day commemoration.”
And that proud day came on June 6 this year when Patrick drove his completely restored jeep to join other die hard military vehicle enthusiasts on the beaches of Normandy for the milestone commemoration.
“It was spectacular. There was a million and a half people there,” said Patrick.
It was a great privilege to drive the historical military vehicle on the beach last month and Patrick had the added honour of driving with paratrooper, Bob Noody, of the 101st Airborne Division. The Star Lake veteran Robert Noody was a paratrooper on the eve of the D-Day invasion, which saw the liberation of Western Europe from the control of Nazi Germany.
Bob was awarded the Legion of Honour, France's highest medal for military conduct, a number of years ago. He was also the recipient of two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts.
“It was such an honour to drive with Bob Noody in my vehicle - and he signed the dashboard,” said Patrick.
That great honour couldn't have happened without the serious commitment and effort that Patrick put into restoring the military vehicle, which is almost eight decades old.
“She was completely worn out when I found her,” Patrick explained.
“She had 65,000 miles on the clock, which was a lot. And she was mechanically worn out. The radiator and other parts were in pieces.
“So I needed a collection of parts from Italy, the Philippines, the States. It was important to me to get the genuine original parts, not the cheap parts from China and other places.”
The hard work certainly paid off and, when visiting Ballinamuck on Thursday of last week, the beauty and authenticity of the vehicle was certainly appreciated. And Patrick has plans to continue driving his pride and joy around the country.
“I’m confident in her now that I’ve driven her to France, so I’ll be bringing her to some of the car shows. I’ll bring her to Lough Rynn and also to the All-Ireland Car Show in Rathfarnham, and the Military Show in Cavan,” he said proudly.
“It’s a very enjoyable hobby. It’s an easy hobby. More people should do it and keep history alive.”
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