Friday, October 29, 2010

GOOD NEWS - Man searches for and finds Grandfather's World War II Jeep

Too often, I've been commenting on the stories of the day - Politics - Afghanistan - Buffoonery - Greedy Unions, etc., etc.

NOW - here is a feel good story about an OLD JEEP that belonged to David Keckan's Grandad during WW2....I am glad to give you a story to read that doesn't involve all of the usual subjects and suspects.

Search for grandfather's World War II past leads to a ride in his old Jeep
Brian Albrecht

AURORA, Ohio -- David Keckan's odyssey into the past started with 523 letters from the grandfather he never knew.

The letters were written by his grandfather, Walter Neton, to Keckan's great-grandparents when Neton was serving as a paratrooper with the 101st Airborne Division in Europe from 1942-47, during and just after World War II.

Keckan, 24, an Aurora substitute teacher and coach, said these missives were discovered by his mother and aunt five years ago. "I started reading them and realized, wow, this is like a love story," he recalled.

The letters traced his grandfather's service from D-Day through Germany, and Neton's whirlwind romance with a Polish woman, Alena Socha, whom he met and married two weeks after his unit liberated the Nazi labor camp where she was imprisoned. (Neton knew how to speak Polish from his immigrant parents.)

Keckan was intrigued. His grandmother died in 1985 and his grandfather died just after Keckan was born in 1986, so he never heard their wartime story.

He started searching the internet and not only found an account of his grandparents' wedding in an old regimental newsletter, but also located and visited their best man in Virginia.

Keckan learned how his grandparents were married at an old church in Austria, followed by a reception in the company mess hall decorated with colored parachutes. Music was provided by a band of Polish soldiers, and the newlyweds left for their honeymoon in a Jeep donated by Neton's commander, dragging empty clanking gas cans behind it.

But Keckan's search wasn't finished. He found a photo of his grandfather sitting in a Jeep, and just for the heck of it, plugged the vehicle's serial number (painted on the hood) into an Internet search.

No. 20185903 came back a hit, owned by Dennis Burns, 63, of Fremont, Calif.
Burns said he bought the surplus Jeep in 2001 after finding it rusting away in a rural barn. He paid $1,200 for the vehicle and spent more than $12,000 restoring it for use in parades and as a tribute to his parents, who both served in the military during World War II.

He said the Jeep was probably rebuilt in 1945, using parts from other vehicles, and the hood may be the only original part remaining from the Jeep that Keckan's grandfather drove during training in the U.S., before shipping off to Europe.

Burns invited Keckan out for a ride in the Jeep in this year's July 4 parade in Fremont, and later let him drive it.

"It was pretty cool. I didn't know how to drive a stick shift, but somehow I drove perfectly," Keckan recalled. "As I drove, I just knew my grandfather was sitting right next to me, holding my hand."

Burns was equally impressed with Keckan's search. "I think we need more Davids in this world to continue the history and not let it be forgotten," he said. "He's fantastic."

Keckan's mother, Cindy Keckan, 54, of Aurora, also was surprised by how far her son got in researching his grandfather's story.

"Oh my gosh, I have two brothers and a sister and we learned a lot that we never knew, and probably never would've known if David hadn't done this," she said.

Her parents never talked much about the war, she added. Her father concentrated on running a service station in Conneaut while her mother was a dedicated homemaker.

She was surprised by her son's discovery of the best man at her parents' wedding. To further find the Jeep was "amazing," she said; noting that now he'd like to locate more information about his grandmother.

"I don't know what his next find will be," she added, "But there's probably something out there that'll surprise all of us."

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