AMARILLO, Texas — Don Foran recently let a part of his past go.
The Amarillo Globe-News reports at 91, he knows he can’t take it with him.
“I was good,” he said with a grin when asked how he was driving a Jeep in World War II. “I’d never driven one before. I had driven some Harley trucks and ¾-ton trucks during training, but no Jeeps.”
Certainly not the 1942 Willys-Overland Universal Jeep, which the young Foran found himself driving on some extremely dangerous missions in the last months of World War II. That old Jeep became a link for Foran through the decades to a time of youth, of service, and of bravery.
It was a restored 1942 model that Foran donated to VFW Post 430 in Canyon — one that will be used in parades and other patriotic ceremonies by the post.
Foran, a former pipeline contractor, was on the prowl for that Jeep model when a nephew, Joe Foran in Dallas, helped him locate one in the East Texas town of Gladewater. It was painted white to limit any rust.
This was 20 years ago. Foran bought it, repainted it to its original Army green and reworked the brakes and transmission. It took about two years to restore it — “I worked at it at odd moments,” Foran said.
It was in slightly better condition than the one Pvt. Foran had to drive in Germany in 1945. It was salvaged from the Battle of the Bulge just a few months before and used more oil than gasoline.
Foran was not even 19 when he arrived in Germany. He was among hundreds of soldiers who had crossed the Atlantic on the Queen Elizabeth, a crowded double load that meant every other night he and half the men had to give up their bed to the other half.
One stormy night, Foran and another soldier were trying to find dry conditions to sleep. They found one in a nook next to the officers’ quarters. The quarters were strictly off-limits to enlisted men.
“This other fella worried we had violated orders,” Foran said. “I pointed out to him, as replacements we were taking the place of men who had been killed in action, wounded or captured. I said if they put us in jail for this, we may have a better future.”
When Foran arrived along the border of France and Germany, he reported to the 687th Artillery and was assigned to a Capt. Rostrum, an S-2 — an intelligence officer, a forward observer.
“What we’re talking about here is extremely dangerous,” said Ret. Army Col. Clayton Hoffman, former 430 post commander. “Don is very modest about this, but there’s not a more dangerous position in war than being with a foreign observer.”
As Foran described it, it was “a rather active position.” The S-2 section’s mission was to locate the Germans, usually within 200 meters or so, and then call in the coordinates. The entire section consisted of two tanks and Foran and Rostrum in the Jeep.
“The former driver could not pat me on the back or hug me enough because he was so glad to get rid of that position,” Foran said. “I asked someone if that was common, and he said, ‘Oh, he’s just yellow.'”
The lanky 6-foot-6 Foran was what was known as a “dog robber,” basically a personal aide of an officer during war. He was tipped the princely sum of $5 a month by the captain.
“I think they were sympathetic to a high school kid because that’s what I was,” Foran said. “It was definitely dangerous, but if a captain could do it, this private could do it also.”
Foran proved to be so adept behind the wheel of the 942 Willys-Overland that after the war, he was assigned to drive documents concerning the Nazi’s Dachau prison camp from Nuremberg, where the war trials were held, to Munich.
Foran left the Army on July 15, 1946, from what was then occupied Germany to return to Amarillo. Cars have always piqued his interest. For nearly 20 years, he did maintenance on First Baptist Church’s vans and buses. As for the nine vans and two buses, “I just put gas in them now,” he said.
As for the Jeep, as the years click off, it’s time to find a home for parts of his past. Post 430 seemed like a nice resting place for the restored Jeep of an old dog robber.
Information from: Amarillo Globe-News, http://www.amarillo.com
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