Veteran drives self-restored military-style jeep at the Walla Walla Veterans Day Parade

A crowd-favorite piece at the Walla Walla Veterans Day Parade is when Sgt. Jim Willard drives out his self-restored military jeep.

WALLA WALLA, Wash. — One retired veteran, a participant for more than 50 years at the Walla Walla Veterans Day Parade, is front and center with the jeep he personally restored after getting home from Vietnam.

He was wounded overseas in combat as a United States Army sergeant first class.

“I was wounded carrying a buddy. He’s alive today because of what I did,” Sgt. Willard said.

After a week, not knowing if the other survived, they were reunited.

“We ended up being in the same hospital in the same ward and were reunited,” said Sgt. Willard.

He said when retired, a jeep was the first thing on his bucket list.

“It took me about two years to find it, and then another year to restore it and then it’s been in every parade in Walla Walla ever since,” he said.

He included that he found the jeep in a field, left there to rust. He said each part of the jeep is original.

Sgt. Willard said the thing he likes most about driving it is the kids.

“Kids always want to know about it, because everybody has either a dad or uncle or granddad or brother that’s been a jeep driver,” he said. He said it means a lot to veterans as well.

He said the neatest thing that ever happened was in the parking lot of Home Depot in Walla Walla.

“There was an old man on a walker with his grandson, and he was walking around telling his grandson about it, and I found out that he had driven a Jeep in World War II,” Sgt. Willard explained.

However, it didn’t stop there.

“He was in the unit that liberated my dad who was a POW in Germany during World War II. He said, ‘When I was young, I used to say I’d give my teeth to do that.’ He said, ‘I can’t say that anymore, but I will give my whole upper plate if I could ride in that Jeep one time.’

Willard said he and the man’s grandson picked him up, put him in the jeep and gave him a ride around town in the jeep.

“Made his day. It made my day. We just had a ball,” Willard concluded.

READ: ‘They shouldn’t be forgotten’: Sunnyside memorial stands to honor veterans past Nov. 11