Text courtesy of the "29th Division French Historical Association"
Once upon a time, there was a jeep Willys Overland U.S.A 20472419. An "S" had been added to this number, to show it could match any other equipment fielded with the "Signal Corps".
This very soon mythical jeep could not bear any other name than a legendary one, the origin of which very few people have got acquainted with. The 29th French Historical Association will provide you with the key of the mystery! You probably read once, " The hounds of the Baskervilles" by Conan Doyle, and you learnt that on the Moors of Dartmoor, a granite peak is known as "Vixen Tor". We all know that our General was bent to admire this peak, and had given its name to his own jeep Yes, but where does this name come from? We do know, that, on the Moors, "Tor" means "peak", "hill" or "crest"? So, up to now, everybody may understand that "Vixen Tor" is "Vixen Peak". Yes, but what about "Vixen"? You are about to know everything! Lend your ears to the legend that follows!
"Once upon a time, a very long time ago, on the Moors, lived a terrific witch called Vixana. She was a real horrible old rag. She burnt with hatred for all human kind and loved nothing more than the sight of suffering people. Vixana was hideously tall and horribly skinny. As for her teeth, two greenish and dripping fangs were protruding from her smelly mouth. Her frightening wrath made her yellow eyes turned red. She never parted with a club she used to behead all the lovely flowers that happened to cross her way. Her favorite pleasure was to spy after the unhappy travelers walking past the cave where she lived, at the foot of the tor, and with her magic wand, she rose a sticky and thick fog. The wanderers got lost, when misguided to treacherous marshes and got drown in a dreary and lost from the start last battle. And their miserable souls could be seen at night, dancing sadly over the gorse. No one dared set a foot longer on this part of the Moors.
At the same time, on the other side of the desolated landscape, a handsome young man was showing considerable gifts. He was able to see through the fog, and wore on his left finger, a magic ring that allowed him to disappear whenever he wished so. These magic powers had been granted to him by Jack oLantern, a king Pixie of the Moors he had once helped against a monster toad. When he heard of the witchs crimes, he decided to go and see for himself.
As he was nearing Vixanas hellish cave, she invoked a thick fog. But the young man gave a wide berth to the trap of the marshes. When she saw him come out of the mist, Vixana fell in horrible screams and started to cast terrible curses at him. The young man slipped the magic ring on his middle finger and disappeared under Vixanas eyes. Looking for her victim, the witch had stopped delivering her hellish curses and approached the verge of the Tor. Behind her surged the young man and he kicked her down the shadowy hole. She could be heard screaming to death
The few inhabitants left on the Moors were so glad to be rid of Old Vixana that they generously rewarded the young man. He bought a farm and eventually married a beautiful and fair maid. They, of course, had numerous children, and in spite of that, lived happy long after!
We will never know whether General Gerhardt knew this legend. We like to imagine somebody told it to him and that he took it as an allegory. Occupied Europe was a gigantic "Tor" on which sat a creature of Hell, as demoniac as Old Vixana. The "Blue and Gray" Division would imperson the handsome young man that would kick the daemon to Hell and beyond A good enough reason to call his jeep " Vixen Tor" as good as any Why not? VIXEN TOR is one among the 660,000 jeeps built as early as 1941 to the end of WWII. People still try to agree about the origin of the word " Jeep". This name is read for the first time in February 1941, in an issue of the "Daily News". Meanwhile, in April of the same year, the "Philadelphia Inquirer" mentions the same vehicle, but nicknames it "Peep". Some other names spring from everywhere: " Blitz Buggy", "Midget", "Bug", you name it All these nicknames freely given to the marvelous little 4WD car that was to be fielded to all allied armies, have disappeared to let only the one we all know: " JEEP". It is because of the military list that referred to this vehicle as "G.P". (General Purpose)? It might be, but we will certainly never know for sure.
Some bring forward the idea it could have been inspired by the wonderful character of a cartoon, " Eugene-the-Jeep" who became so popular in the United States in 1936 that a lot of people used to call "jeep" any kind of surprising things. Surprising was the very word for the jeep! Suitable for everything, used fore every task, and all-duty little sturdy car, for the highest jobs to the almost degrading ones, she always went further than was awaited from her About its "limitations", lets us quote General Eisenhower ("A Crusade in Europe", chapter XVI). In September 1994, Eisenhower had a forced landing aboard a light kite, on a beach in Normandy. His pilot and himself tried hard to pull the plane far from the rising tide. In doing so, the General dislocated one of his knees but he had to go back to H.Q We quote him:
" It was a pitiful walk under a pouring rain and we had almost no hope when we put our thumbs up to stop a passing vehicle, since there were but a few soldiers of our party going by. Meanwhile, some time later, buzzed on a jeep in which eight men had been able to squeeze as they could. I asked them to drive me to the H.Q and they eagerly lifted me on the seat besides the driver To this day, I still cannot understand how they could manage to heap themselves unto the jeep, plus myself and my pilot. Well, they succeeded!"
On that very day, on a narrow winding Normandy road, bumping away at full speed, a tiny G.P car was carrying ten men!! What a dream for its "fathers" from Bantam, Willys and Ford!
An let us quote our famous humorous writer Pierre DAC, who was a member, as everybody knows, of the Free French, and was in situ a war correspondent attached to the 1st Mechanized Infantry Division. His opinion about the jeep: " a sort of happy mixture between the moped, the carrier tricycle, the parachute, a straight off engine and a threshing machine!"
"Our" VIXEN-TOR is still alive. It is on display at the Museum of the 5th Regiment in Baltimore. In 1994, two sergeants of the 29th Division (Light), Bill WARD and Jim SPARROW drove the jeep to France for the 50th anniversary of D-Day. All those who took part unto the organization of this Memorial trip remember the Normandy adventure of VIXEN TOR, at the time of its jubilee! We will let Philippe LEBREUILLY, our Vice-Chairman, to tell you the story as it was lived through by the Reenactment Group of the "Blue and Gray":
" May 29th 1994. At about 1500hrs, I call at Fabrice LETRIBOTs, our U.S engineering specialist, to give him a hand to load the last equipment, and we will be prepared to roam the Normandy countryside to pay our tribute to those who made History, fifty years ago. Success will depend on our shoulders, good will, and for the most important part on the docility of our vehicles we spent so much time to restore with care and love.
A phone call from the owner of the farm "de la Motte" at Saint-Clair sur Elle, where our base camp has been set up, is about to play havoc with our program. VIXEN TOR, General GERHARDTs jeep has broken down on A13 freeway, somewhere between Paris and Caen!
Both sergeants WARD and SPARROW had taken charge of the famous jeep, from Baltimore Armory, en route to drive, 50 years after, the same itineraries the General had followed in 1944. Bill and Jim had no French at all. In spite of this barrier, they succeed in making people understand that they could not manage by themselves and needed some help. As soon as we got the word, we organized a "rescue team".
Fabrice decides to go at once and fetch the jeep; he needs a trailer to carry the wreck and I propose my own car for towing. But we have a problem: the jeep itself has a trailer and we have to find another solution. We get it when we need it! A friend of ours, Michel ALLIX, a garage mechanic at Pont-Hebert, a few miles from Saint-Lô, accepts to lend us his flat truck if we promise to bring it back the day after, first time in the morning, because he needs it for his trade.So, the jeep will be carried on the truck and the trailer hooked on behind. But we have something else to worry about: the hook is a civilian pattern, of course and does not fit. Fabrice must replace it with a true and genuine jeep-hook that will fit the trailer. While he is sweating on the job, we frenetically phone to all the rhumbs of the rose, i.e the police stations of the free-way to try to locate the jeep and itd drivers. No way! Nobody has heard anything! Meanwhile, the "State-troopers"radio to all their friends and colleagues to patrol the roads: one jeep, a trailer and two G.Is in full dress, that must show off as a sore thumb in the French landscape!
At about 1930hrs, Fabrice gets behind the wheel of the wrecker and on his Good Samaritans way. At last, a phone call from the "gendarmes" tells us the jeep has been found with its drivers on a lay-by called "Robert-le-Diable", in the vicinity of Rouen. We ask the "gendarmes" to let the G.Is know the rescue team is speeding towards them and to remain where they are. At 2300hrs, Fabrice reaches the place. Both American soldiers are there, engaged in what seems a long and friendly talk with the "gendarmes" who helped them to kill the time. Fabrice loads everybody on the truck and forwards ho! To Saint-Lô which they reach at about 0300 hrs! Vixen Tor is safe in a garage. The wrecker is back to work at his owners and Fabrice brings the two sergeants to my home. A very short night is allowed. It is 0400 hrs To morrow will be another day and we will inspect the ailing jeep. Fabrice has already checked: the radiator is out of service no wonder, it is the genuine one!
After a very short night indeed, "show a leg and rise"! Fabrice begins to take the fault to pieces. He fully cleans the cooling system. But a crucial question:
How to mend the venerable radiator? No time and no way of keeping the old one. We make up our minds: Fabrice will take the radiator of my own jeep, absolutely made new, and will transplant it on Vixen Tor! Which is done with much caution, much labor, and loving care due to respect of the patient. At 1600hrs, General Gerhardts jeep is pronounced "good for service". It will tick on without any problem during its staying with us, will take part in all the ceremonies for everybodys pleasure. Thank you, Michel ALLIX and a triple hurrah to Fabrice!
EPILOGUE: At the end of the trip, our sergeants Bill and Jim, have thought better and decided not to drive back to Paris. We found a most inventive and free way of taking the jeep back to the Paris airport: drivers, jeep and trailer traveled on a truck carrying cheese! From Bills point of view, it was an "unforgettable" experience.
VIXEN TOR is now again a "sleeping beauty" in the Armory of the 5th Regiment in Baltimore. She has quite recovered from her emotions of 1994. But let us bet that she still keeps an eye peeled, prepared as she is to new adventures, from Fort Meade to Omaha Beach as long as there are Blue and Gray to invite her and dedicated young reenactors to help her on our continent.
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