Thursday, August 27, 2020

Contact!

(Source)

Perhaps they had grown overconfident, they were used to things being quiet after dark away from the main highways. Leutnant von Lüttwitz thought to himself that they should have been a little more careful as they got closer to the front. They were close, sometimes, at night when the wind was right, they could hear the rumble of artillery to the north and to the northeast. By the lieutenant's calculations, they were within 75 kilometers of the border with Belgium.

They had set out shortly after dusk, it wasn't fully dark yet, but it had been a quiet day, some French farm traffic, carts and wagons, but no military vehicles had been on the roads all day. They knew from experience that the French would be off the roads after dusk, during the Occupation the curfew had enforced that and the French had yet to break that habit.

They had been advancing down the road itself, trying to make time, the men could sense that they were getting closer to where they wanted, needed, to be. It was getting foggy, the lieutenant hoped it would get foggier still, reducing visibility. They should be able to hear any vehicles approaching, and they did, but these vehicles were traveling at a high rate of speed, without headlights.

Feldwebel Dieter Pohl had been with von Lüttwitz on point, Unteroffizier Uwe Schumacher had been bringing up the rear, all three men carried MP 40 submachine guns. Pohl and the lieutenant had gone to either side of the road, taking cover in the ditches, ready for whatever emerged from the mist.

Obergefreiter Günter Voigt had been quick to get the MG 42 ready, Grenadier Hans Pfeiffer was his assistant gunner, the men were rotating that position as the spare ammunition, though limited, was still heavy. When the first vehicle came into sight, Voigt recognized it immediately, an American car, what the Amis called a Jeep. Behind it, close behind it as a matter of fact, was a small truck. He opened fire, he felt he had no choice.

(Source)

There were two men in the Jeep, only one in the small truck. Voigt's first burst killed the driver of the Jeep which veered off the road and into the ditch, catapulting its passenger into a nearby tree. The driver of the small truck had jammed on the brakes and then tried to accelerate through the ambush once he realized that's what it was. (He had no idea that the Germans were as surprised as he was.)

That man had died when Voigt shifted his aim and fired a second quick burst into the cab of the truck. His vehicle rolled to a stop as the dead man's foot slipped from the accelerator, the vehicle hadn't really come up to speed when its driver died.

Quickly six of the seven Germans checked on the vehicles, the seventh man, Grenadier Manfred Sauer, had checked on the Jeep passenger, who had died on impact with the tree. As there was nothing to be done, he rejoined his squad.

"Mein Gott Herr Leutnant, this truck is full of American rations!" Feldwebel Pohl exclaimed.

"Everybody, grab what you can, then we head as far from this road as we can! Move, move!" The lieutenant realized that the distinctive sound of their MG 42 would definitely attract attention. There must be an American post nearby if these men were traveling this side road. There could be no other explanation.

But there was.


The Americans were deserters, they were selling American rations to the French civilians and using that money to finance what could only be described as a large organized crime racket in Paris and other large cities behind the lines. Some estimates put the number of American deserters in the ETO as high as 40,000 men. These three were just a small fraction of those involved. Some took to the woods and lived away from civilization, others turned to crime. Many of the latter had been criminals before being drafted, France was just a different venue.


As the sun rose, von Lüttwitz examined the new map they had found on the body of the "flying Ami" as the men referred to him, the man who had been thrown from the Jeep. He had been a sergeant and had a very good American map of the entire region from St-Quentin to the Belgian border. He had other maps for the surrounding areas and the lieutenant had been delighted to find one which extended well into Belgium, nearly to the German border.

Leutnant von Lüttwitz was familiar with the Ardennes, he had been a young corporal in 1940 when his division, the 223rd, had been involved in the campaign which overran France. He had visited after the fighting was over and loved the rolling hills and forests of the area. He also reasoned that it wouldn't be heavily occupied. It might be a good place to get over the border into Germany. Perhaps the army still held the line of the Maas, he didn't know. But that was closer than trying to strike further north.

The men were satiated from the excellent rations they had recovered from the truck. He had allowed them to stuff themselves as they now had enough for at least a week, if they were careful. As these men had known the hardships of the Eastern Front, von Lüttwitz knew they could be counted upon to not eat more than was necessary.

While they had made less than 40 kilometers that night, and had diverted further north than he had planned, they had food and good maps. He had been concerned about the machine gun fire and knew that the Amis would start searching for them soon. They had to. It seemed dangerous to let an armed foe wander your rear area when they probably had no idea how large a group it was.


The French had indeed reported the destroyed vehicles and the dead Americans to the local gendarmerie. They had reported it to their regional headquarters and eventually, three days after the event, the Americans sent a patrol to investigate.

"Whaddaya think Sarge? Deserters?" The lieutenant commanded the Military Police detachment in St-Quentin, he had been a New York City detective before the war. He knew that it was odd for three men to be traveling this far off the beaten path. The weapons carrier had been ransacked, there were empty ration cases around the rear.

"I dunno lieutenant. But yeah, three guys, a Jeep and a weapons carrier, way out here in the boondocks? Looks fishy. I'd bet they were selling rations on the black market. But these guys were shot up, the Maquis maybe? Now that the Krauts are gone, a lot of them are fighting their political enemies, not all of 'em are fans of de Gaulle."

The Frenchman who had brought them to the scene began to gesticulate rather wildly, he was mad about something, but his French came out in such a torrent that their interpreter, a GI who had a French mother and an American father, had trouble keeping up.

"Lieutenant, as near as I can make out, this guy's French is some heavy rural dialect, this couldn't have been the Maquis. He says he heard machine gun fire, German machine gun fire. Ya know, nothing makes a sound quite like a Kraut MG."

"What? Do ya think the resistance doesn't have Kraut weapons now that we're no longer supplying them. Hell, there's Kraut equipment laying around from here to Normandy. The f**kers shed as much weight as they could when they started running. My money's on the Maquis and these simple country f**ks made off with the rations themselves. Sure, blame the Krauts." The sergeant was known to express his opinions freely, as he did so now.

The lieutenant thought about it for a moment. Looking at the vehicles he then walked down the road in the direction which they had been traveling in, it wasn't long before he found what he was looking for.

"C'mere Sarge, take a look." The lieutenant was kneeling in a ditch about 20 yards from where the jeep had crashed. Cartridge casings were everywhere, perhaps 15 or so, whoever had been on the gun knew his business, this was not some resistance fighter shooting. They tended to use far too much ammunition.

"Okay, lieutenant, this is where the shooter was. Kraut ammo casings, doesn't mean that it was a Kraut on the gun." Staff Sergeant Cranston shrugged his shoulders, he hadn't been a cop before the war, he'd been a car salesman, but being an M.P. beat being in the infantry.

"Look again Sarge. How many Frenchmen wear hobnailed boots?" The lieutenant pointed out the tracks around the scene, it looked indeed like the shooter had been wearing military footwear. As far as he knew, only the Germans and the British wore hobnailed boots.

(Source¹)

Sgt Cranston thought about that for a bit. Made sense, but...

"So what do we do lieutenant, report a band of marauding Krauts in the area? Could even be other deserters, who knows?"

"I know Sarge, but we should keep our eyes and ears open for other strange doings in the area. There have been Krauts picked up between here and Normandy for a few weeks now, some of the bastards are just looking for someone to surrender to, maybe a few hardcore types still trying to make it back to their lines. I dunno. But I'm curious."

"Okay lieutenant, you're the detective."


Sitting on the lieutenant's desk back in St-Quentin was a report from the gendarmes of a suspicious death near Tilloloy, a small town about 30 miles west of St-Quentin. It seems that the local gendarmes were convinced that a farmer had been murdered, then had his house set on fire, trying to make it look like an accident, they supposed.

Seems that one of the French cops had noticed odd footprints going into the hen house. What thief would wear hobnail shoes?






¹ No, it's not why Germany lost the war you dumbasses on Reddit. The British wore them as well, helped to keep the soles from wearing out. Remember, most Germans marched to war, just like their grandfathers and great-grandfathers had. Cobblestones were a problem, but most of the war did not take place in quaint city streets. /rant

40 comments:

  1. Not claiming to be an intellectual but social media certainly reveals the lack of IQ/common sense in so much of the population. Good visual find Sarge on such a bastion of knowledge aka Reddit. C'mon Sgt Cranston, how many AMERICAN deserters would wear GERMAN boots?!?

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    1. To be fair they could be British deserters. But I don't think Cranston was thinking like a cop, he's probably the night-stick wielding, attacking drunk GIs on a pass kind of MP anyway. His lieutenant on the other hand...

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  2. Quite agree with the assessment of many of those in the net even while not participating in social media.
    Regardless of the braying asses out there, I find most of your regular commenters to be many levels above, which adds to the pleasure of reading these entries.
    The twist of the deserters is a good one and illustrated that the army of the " Greatest Generation" had its share of bad actors. FWIW our current generation typically behaves far better as far as actual crime goes.
    Boat Guy

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    1. I have always been happy with the folks who comment here - they tend to be smart, polite, and often witty. We discourage those who refuse to "play nice."

      For some reason the term "Greatest Generation" has always bothered me. No doubt Brokaw was seduced by the idea of WWII being the last "good" war (as if there could be such a thing). The media in the latter half of the 20th Century was starting to not report the news but be part of the news. Cronkite destroyed his reputation forever over the Tet Offensive.

      Now the media makes no pretense whatsoever of reporting, they advocate.

      But yes, the American military of WWII were not choir boys by any stretch of the imagination, but the criminal element was small compared to the vast numbers who served. The draft brings in all kinds, but I suppose it's a necessary evil when numbers count.

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    2. Hey AFSarge;

      I remember hearing about a lot of deserters in France during the war, the hard fighting gave a lot of people of "less sterling character" especially in rear areas to set up criminal enterprises or flat out desert and link up, especially after Paris was liberated. My dad who was El-Cid had stories about dealings with deserters in Vietnam and other rifraf while he was there. The hobnail boots the Germans used were a serious liability especially in the Russian front, Frostbite from the nails wiped out a lot of them because of it.

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    3. Not sure where you got the "frostbite from the nails" story but I doubt the accuracy of that statement. The nails were only on the soles and didn't go all the way through. Frostbitten feet came from uninsulated leather boots. They were NOT a serious liability. Not sure where you got that, I've never heard of it.

      Deserters are bad, there's a reason most armies shoot them.

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    4. Brokaw saw WWII as the Greatest Generation because it was the last war we were fighting with the Commies, instead of against them.

      Not a lot of respect for that man.

      The Greatest Generation? Those were the people who could have just continued to pay a piddly 1-5% tax and stay British subjects yet decided to embark on a grand experiment to become citizens instead. From the arse end of manufacturing and supply, they managed, yes, with help from foreign governments and individuals, to create something that still to this day is decidedly better than anywhere else (taken in the entirity, rather than select sections of third-worldness that exist here and there. And, really, rather be poor in Appalachia than poor in South America.)

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    5. Those are the ones I consider to be the Greatest Generation as well.

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  3. A few years ago I read a book on the account of Lincoln‘s assassination

    Can dig up the title if anyone’s interested.

    What astounded me in those days was the lack of communication

    John Wilkes Booth just calmly rode his horse out of Washington

    No BOLAs sent.

    Likewise I think in this instance by the time everybody figures out what’s been going on our seven will be long gone.

    And I am wondering during those chaotic times how many German deserters were there?

    If the seven make it back will they be thought of as deserters?

    I guess we will have to stay tuned 😁

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    1. Well, when you consider that it was 1865, I'm not that surprised. Not many police (if any) in those days.

      The Germans shot over 15,000 deserters during WWII.

      Technically speaking they are not deserters as they are making a serious attempt to rejoin their unit. Only a complete martinet/idiot would consider them deserters. Of course, Germany was full of Nazi martinets/idiots who were physical AND moral cowards who might want to charge them with desertion. Things didn't get really out of hand on that count until the Spring of 1945. In reality, getting cut off behind enemy lines was not that uncommon in WWII, especially in Russia.

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    2. Regarding the Lincoln Assassination, well, there wasn't a lot of information at the actual time that was centralized and coordinated enough to get a BOLO out.

      Though the Union commanders in charge of Washington DC definitely started connecting the dots quickly, but considering lack of quick communication systems and all the attacks that were supposed to happen were spread out across the city (even now, in this computer and information age, what happens 10' this side of a precinct border doesn't cross into the next precinct very well in most places. Which is one of the reasons for ComStat and other daily and weekly cross-precinct/district meetings.)

      The whole assassination affair was handled poorly and bungled by... the assassins. And the escape plans were even more farcical and bungled. Just what you would expect from a theater major and others more into the romance of the Southern Cause rather than actually fighting for the Southern Cause.

      Bunglers. Like most anarchists and assassins. Bunglers who managed to get people killed by their bungling. (Like Dr. Mudd, the guy who set Booth's leg. Was he really a Southern sympathizer or was he just in the wrong place at the wrong time? No matter what, that's where we get the whole "Your name is Mudd" thing from (what, you thought they were referring to wet dirt?)

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    3. Ah yes, romance versus reality. Never looked at it like that, but you're absolutely right. I also didn't know the origin of that phrase, cool, I learned something today.

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    4. Went to school with one of Mudd's future family members. The family has tried since he was first arrested to clear his name. When I saw their presentation back in the late 70's, it was slick, full of facts, and the Peanut Farmer still said "No." Yes, he was pardoned by President Johnson in 1869 (what is it about presidents with the last name of Johnson that just attract petty, nasty, small-minded people,) but his record and conviction still stand to this day. Not expunged or cleared, just pardoned.

      Though "Here's mud in your eye" has a biblical source of origin, related to the Big J himself and referring to wiping mud and dirt in the eyes of the blind, though it really originated during Prohibition.

      Your name is Mudd, on the other hand... the correct way is with two 'd's though most people don't know that.

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    5. I've never seen it with the double "d" - odd that.

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    6. Most people don't. But after the assassination till around WWI the written version was a double 'd.'

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    7. Interesting, a most worthwhile tidbit!

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    8. Sarge, if you'd seen the 'National Treasure' movies, you'd already know a couple of things - a few, maybe - Jon Voigt is a very good actor; Diane Kruger is a very beautiful German who speaks very fluent American English; and the thing about 'your name is Mudd' as explained by Nicolas Cage in one scene of the second movie in the series. Escapist somewhat alternate history stories that I still enjoyed. Did I mention Diane Kruger is pretty? Think she played Helen of Troy in another movie...

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    9. I saw the first one, enjoyed it. I've always enjoyed Jon Voigt's acting. Diane Kruger is indeed lovely and she did play Helen of Troy in the movie Troy.

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  4. I did not know the desertion problem was that large, though, being more of a student of the Pacific, where it's pretty blatant if you're not where you are supposed to be (once you leave California or Hawaii, that is.) I did know that late in the war in '45 there was an issue with desertions (or, well, early voluntary dismissals) as the feeling was known that Germany was going to surrender one day and there was a fear of dying before the end of the war. But in '44? While the 'Invasion' was still technically going on? Did not know that.

    I can understand some just shellshocked and walking away. But to just ditch for being yellow? Then again, all the volunteers and first round draft-picks were already in the Army and have been serving for years or a year, so gutter-sweepings are what comes up next. Makes sense, now that I think about it. We see the same thing in the American Civil War of Northern Aggression against the Whatever. Early volunteers, good drafts at first, quality goes down and down rather rapidly as war progresses.

    One of the things the Draft Board for the Vietnam era was trying to not do. And in many ways just made things worse.

    And the more I think about it, the corrupt serving crook has to hand his stuff to corrupt non-serving crooks, and American crooks aren't really going to trust non-Americans (unless, like in Italy and Sicily, the local crooks are extended family members of the serving crook. Not a lot of French-Americans in comparison to Italian-Americans or Siculo-Americans.) And, thus, an underworld of American deserters being fed by crooked service members. The little factoids are all falling into place now. Thus, a dark, cobweb filled basement of dark and fell deeds is suddenly lit by the light of comprehension.

    You... you snuck in a teaching moment, didn't you?

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    1. I tried. Looks like it worked. 😉

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    2. In "China Marine" (the sequel to "With the Old Breed...") Sledge mentions Marines in China trying to sell their Thompsons on the black market to make a few bucks... Knowing full well they would get into the red's hands. Barstewards, the lot of that type.

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    3. You can make a man physically fit, you can teach him tactics and drill, you can teach him to obey orders. The one thing you cannot teach him is honor.

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    4. With all due respect, Sarge, I beg to differ. I am sincerely convinced that you can teach a man "Honor". Depending on his current condition, upbringing, and etc., it can be relatively easy, or extremely hard. I served in the Corps with a lot of street rats from inner cities, especially Chicago, and I had the honor of participating in and/or observing their indoctrination. (Yeah, some folks like to treat that term like it's all bad, but it is not. All depends on how, and by whom, it is conducted!) I got stuck with a brig rat that'd been in and out half a dozen times. Turns out nobody had previously cared to take the time to properly acquaint him with appropriate "Esprit De Corps". Within 2 months, I had inspired a guy that would willingly die for his Brothers, his Country, or anybody else deemed "Honorable". Honor is like respect in that to earn it, you have to practice it, and the teaching is in large part just that. Teach the bastard that you can respect and honor what he is about, if only he will do the same for others, and conduct himself in an honorable fashion, and the stooped, slinking primate can rise up, and become a proud, erect pillar of society. I consider that one of the most valuable lessons I have ever learned, and I assure you all, it did not come easy.
      Honor is not generally an inherent characteristic. It is instead more often taught. It is seldom ever too late to teach a person what it is to be honorable. The tricky part is to have them in a situation where you have their Complete Attention. And in a situation where you can give to the teaching your undivided attention, for extended periods of any given day.
      Folks talk about "brainwashing". Yeah, I was subjected to that. It has taken decades to live past some of that. This that I am talking about is not that. It is cooperative learning, that is interactive, and incorporates the intellectual aptitude of the individual "student". Lordly , fellers! I could go on and on, but if you don't git it yet, you ain't likely to!

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    5. I won't argue that it's possible, often though it is difficult and requires an effort which might be better spent on one's other people. I recall that 99% of an NCO's time is spent riding herd on the 1% who refuse to "get it." I had my share of people written off as "poor performers" primarily because they were serving under a crappy NCO.

      But you make some good points, but like you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink, you can try to teach a kid honor, but if he doesn't want it, you can't force it.

      A lot depends on the individual, the circumstances, and the ability to get the individual's attention.

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  5. As to the hobnailed boots, yes, if you don't have access to rubber or synthetic rubber, like the Americans had, then leather and hobnails are the only real way to get a traction-sole. A friend of mine who does WWII reenactment as a German says the nails give good purchase on any terrain that they can get a grab on, but are definitely not what we would expect a shoe to be, both from WWII America and now. Not bad on hard sand or rock, good on wood floors as long as no mud is on the shoe, but definitely tricky during wet and muddy weather.

    Reddit? Lost the war because of their shoes? What Dumbarses!!! Everyone knows it's because of the mutanogenic emminations from their UFO research and recreations, and from the aliens they battled getting the UFOs to research. Morons.

    And thus, our hearty band of Germans escape to live another day. Will they be captured? Will they surrender? Will they make it to Germany in time for the collapse? Or, wait, they're heading into the Ardennes... (cue ominous music...)

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    1. Who knows what will happen if they make it to the border? I haven't really decided myself on that score. I get a picture in my head, I start writing. Sometimes it's a surprise to me as well. 😁

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    2. Story in "Those Devils in Baggy Pants" about a recce into German held territory. Lots of trucks show up and the hun starts digging in and siting gun pits, so the Airborne guys stand up in the dark and march back to the US lines. But they marched in the dirt... as US boots didn't sound the same as German boots on hardpan. Story made Stars and Stripes as I remember.

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    3. I can well imagine. Hobnailed boots aren't very good for sneaking!

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    4. (Don McCollor)...I almost posted about it in response to your story when the Germans crossed on the Brit pontoon bridge. The Germans knew that a US patrol was out (on a dark night) and would be looking for them sneaking back. The brazen effrontery of the paratroopers marching in step right down (alongside) the road fooled them completely...

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    5. We see what we expect to see. Look suspicious, you're done for. Brazen it out and you just might pull it off!

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  6. Innit ironic how folks who'd never speak up on a topic in class will voluntarily make a fool out of themselves on the innertubes, in front of the whole wide world.
    What makes it worse is when they misuse apostrophes; your and you're; to, too, and two; and than and then.
    I like to say, "If ignorance it bliss, they're the happiest people on Earth."

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    1. (Don McCollor)...The best way to spot mistakes in spelling, punctuation, and other errors is to read it just after you posted it...

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    2. Hahaha! Happens all the time!

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  7. For some reason the term "Greatest Generation" has always bothered me. No doubt Brokaw was seduced by the idea of WWII being the last "good" war (as if there could be such a thing). The media in the latter half of the 20th Century was starting to not report the news but be part of the news. Cronkite destroyed his reputation forever over the Tet Offensive.

    Now the media makes no pretense whatsoever of reporting, they advocate.


    Ain't that the truth. On Tet I was reading that after Tet, the Viet Cong ceased being an effective fighting force. But accordinkg to Uncle Walter, the war was unwinnable.

    After Cronkite is when I started to despise the media.

    On "The Greatest Generation" I think today - with some servicemen/women going back 3x-4x to combat - Any combat vet of any era would be proud of them I would think.

    Looking at the Jeep on the top - no wonder they were so beloved. Narrow, small wheelbase so they could go about anywhere, they hauled an amazing amount of stuff, configurable a dozen different ways and simple to maintain...

    The only thing they lacked was speed - my late uncle had a 1947 Willys and 60 mph - it was really wheezing. But where these jeeps were top speed wasn't a big concern.

    Oh, the driver sat right over the gas tank. It was under the seat.

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    1. Tet did destroy the VC, just as Cronkite destroyed my faith in the media.

      Love the old jeeps.

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    2. 60mph was fast enough for most road conditions within a military world. 60mph down most European or British roads at the time was taking one's own life in one's hands. There were very few 'modern' roads as we would think of them. The Jeep was the perfect vehicle for the time. Not too wide, could be carried on a truck or in a cargo plane.

      What's really funny, if you look at it, is you can go to Sams or Bass Pro Shops and buy... a Jeep, now called a side-by-side, at least the larger ones. Seats 2-4, max speed with load on streets around... 60mph. Same horsepower range. Same size, small enough to carry on a truck or in a cargo plane.

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    3. Just saw a really well restored WWII Jeep today with some nice accoutrements appropriate to the period. If you are ever near Manchester, NH, go to Shooter's Outpost in Hooksett. It's a big gun store whose proprietor has an amazing collection of machine guns and other combat arms nicely displayed in a little museum attached to the gun store. Not just American, but German, Japanese, Russian, British, etc all. And a lot of the accessories that go with them. Well worth the trip if you're into that sort of thing.

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    4. I checked out their Facebook page, pretty impressive!

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