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Green Bay man restores WWII-era Jeep, travels European war route
By Tony Walter
One of Bob Burdick's greatest regrets is that he never served in the military.
But rebuilding a World War II-era Jeep and driving it from Normandy to Bastogne came as close as he could get for the 67-year-old Green Bay man.
"It was the trip of a lifetime," said Burdick, a retired mechanical engineer, whose passion for military history became the foundation for last spring's road trip.
It also was a tribute to his fellow Civil War buff, Richard Tonelli, a Green Bay dentist whose father, Rudolph, drove a Jeep through France, Belgium and into Luxembourg as part of Gen. George Patton's 3rd Army in 1944 and 1945.
"My dad had a picture taken of himself in the Jeep in Luxembourg, and Bob found the same spot where the picture was taken," said Tonelli, whose father died last year. Rudolph Tonelli was driving the Jeep when he participated in the liberation of Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany.
Burdick's Jeep saga began several years ago when he found the frame of a 1947 Willy's Jeep in a salvage yard northeast of Green Bay. He decided to restore it to match the 1945 model, a process that began in a storage shed and was completed in Burdick's remodeled west-side garage.
By his conservative estimate, Burdick says he spent about $14,000 in parts and materials, but finished the Jeep in 2002. This year, it was time to retrace Patton's Liberty Road campaign, which began at St. Mere Eglise near the D-Day beaches in Normandy and ended in Bastogne, where the 3rd Army came to the aid of American forces trapped after the Battle of the Bulge.
Burdick enlisted his son, Clark, and three friends to join him on the trip that began in late May. One of them was Ron Niesing of De Pere.
"I had the Jeep shipped to Le Havre (France) and it was there waiting for us," said Burdick, who hired a guide in France to accompany them. The Jeep included the canvas roof that was their only protection from France's spring rain.
They spent a week in Normandy, where they helped lower the U.S. flag at the military cemetery at the end of one day.
"I was jogging on Omaha Beach," said Burdick, referring to the area where troops stormed ashore on June 6, 1944.
There followed a two-week trip, covering about 140 miles a day, that took them past sites made famous in both 20th-century world wars, including Chateau-Thierry and Verdun. They visited the birthplace of Joan of Arc, the gravesite of Joyce Kilmer (the American poet killed in World War I) and the Bastogne headquarters of Gen. Anthony McAuliffe, whose response to a German order to surrender — "Nuts!" — became one of the most famous incidents of the war.
Burdick and his fellow travelers wore what he called "semi-military" clothing on their trip, explaining that "if you're going to be in a military Jeep, they expect you to look like it."
The five travelers flew home, but the Jeep is being shipped back to the States, where it will return to its schedule of attending car shows and hauling Burdick's grandchildren. [/QUOTE]
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