A well-traveled, 72-year-old World War II veteran made a triumphant return the annual Veterans Day parade in Reno on Tuesday.
A remodeled 1942 Dodge WC-54 3/4-Ton Army Ambulance, owned by the Department of Veterans Affairs and refurbished by the Nevada Army Guard made its first public appearance in years at the parade that started on Virginia Street.
The cooperative effort between the Veterans Affairs Sierra Nevada Healthcare System hospital in Reno and the Nevada Army Guard to restore the vehicle began more than a year ago. Thanks to a dozen Nevada Army Guard volunteers, the ambulance is in pristine condition and traversed the parade route under its own power.
The Nevada Guard hosted a preliminary unveiling of the ambulance for representatives from the hospital on Oct 29 in Carson City.
“The ambulance looks fantastic,” said Darin Farr, the public affairs officer for the VA hospital. “When it first rolled out, I could imagine how it looked brand-new back in 1942. The team did a great job.”
The ambulance, donated by a veterans group to the VA hospital, was first delivered to the Army on Sept. 3, 1942. It served with 386th Bombardment Group in France and England during World War II from July 1942 until the war concluded.
The Dodge 3/4 ton 4X4 light trucks were developed during World War II. Several models were produced but only the ambulance series included a heater, longer wheelbase and adjusted suspension for a softer ride.
An in-line, six-cylinder, 214-cubic inch gasoline engine and a four-speed manual transmission provide the power and it operates on a six-volt electrical system.
The ambulance’s odyssey from antique to prized possession began long ago.
“The truck was sitting in the hospital parking lot for years. Then about a year ago, it was determined it had deteriorated beyond what we could do to keep it road worthy,” Farr said. “We just didn’t have the qualified mechanics available to make the repairs it needed.”
Farr didn’t want to see the ambulance — which had represented the VA hospital in every Veteran’s Day parade since the mid 1970s — retired, so he looked for help to keep the iconic ambulance rolling. The Nevada Guard answered his call for assistance.
“During the summer, the VA hospital contacted the Nevada Guard to ask if we could assist with making its vintage truck safe to drive in parades and other events,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Christopher Wolfe, the Army Guard’s deputy surface maintenance manager. “We took a look at it and discussed it with our mechanics.”
“We asked if anyone was interested in volunteering to work on the project for the VA hospital in Reno and had a lot of interest in the project,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Greg Cook, the maintenance supervisor at the central service maintenance shop No. 1 in Carson City. “The team has taken a lot of personal time to do what they can for the aging relic and their efforts show.”
Rick Lee, a mechanic at the CSMS No. 1, became the lead Guard volunteer on the project. A thorough inspection of all the mechanical and electrical systems revealed several problems.
“Our first priority was safety,” Lee said. “The team went through each system to make certain it was functioning properly. We were lucky. For the most part, it just needed attention to small details, like rebuilding the brake cylinders instead of replacing them.”
While stripping away layers of paint and repairing the body, sandblasting revealed text that proved the 386th Bombardment Group, which flew B-26 Liberators out of England and France during World War II, was the original owner of the vehicle.
A serial number was also discovered that confirmed the bombardment group owned the ambulance during the war. Lee searched the Internet for more information about the vehicle and was surprised by what he found.
“We knew the markings it came in with weren’t correct,” Lee said. “We wanted to make everything as close to original as possible. I found a 1942 Army manual that details the proper placement of all the identifying marks. I even found maintenance manual from 1944.”
With Army regulation in-hand, the team created stencils for the paint and made replica data plates to replace missing plates.
“We discovered the ambulance was mostly original parts and we wanted to keep it that way,” Lee said. “We made every effort to salvage what we had.
“It looks good and we believe it is safe to travel in once again.”