Old vets work to put old vehicles back into mint conditions w/ picture

Published 3:26 pm Friday, November 20, 2009

Veterans who have been in action will tell you that it was their equipment that kept them alive, whether it was a weapon or a well-tuned vehicle that got them back to their lines and safety.

The Mississippi Coast Watchers is a group of veterans, and non-veterans, who have a passion about finding old, dilapidated military vehicles and putting them back into the mint condition that they were when used in America’s wars.

Some of the vehicles date back to World War II, the Korean War era and Vietnam.

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They find them in some of the most unlikely places.

Bill Beacht, a former Marine, found a Dodge pick-up of the Korean War era in Ocean Springs and acquired a jeep from the same era from a farmer in Newton.

“They are scattered all over the U.S., and if you are on the lookout for them, you can find them. Then the fun starts,” he says. “Some fans find a lot of them on the Internet.”

Beacht acquired his jeep and pickup for between $500 to $1,000, and he will pour probably as much as $15,000 into them to restore them.

He worked on his jeep and took it out for a spin but the motor blew up.

So this week he was over at Hill’s Body Shop on East Canal getting the motor repaired.

Floyd Hill is an expert at repairing and restoring old vehicles. A native of Alaska, he moved to Picayune several years ago. He is a World War II veteran who served under Patton.

“He helped keep Patton rolling,” says Beacht. “If I have a problem, I just ask him.”

Beacht is a native of Newton and retired here after working at Stennis.

While the smaller vehicles can be expensive, the larger vehicles, like a “Duck,” can run into “big bucks” to restore, says Beacht.

A duck is an amphibious vehicle that can roll on land and navigate in water. While it was not the main vehicle to ferry troops to shore, it helped carry troops from ships to Pacific Island shores to engage Japanese on islands like Tarawa, Saipan and Iowa Jima.

Ducks can be seen in use in a lot of old World War II film documentaries.

Your chances of surviving an assault was probably greater in a duck since it could ferry you over the beach and into the woods before you had to disembark.

The local MCW is made up of enthusiasts from the bottom six counties of Mississippi, but the group has chapters all over the U.S.

Members participate in parades and hold their own get-togethers to compare notes and look at the other guy’s work of art.

“We even take them out in convoys and for mud-riding just to try them out and see how they are working,” says Beacht.

Another enthusiast here is John Griffin, owner of City Rexall Drugs. He restored a duck, and said it takes a large investment to put one back into operating condition.

Griffin says he has five vehicles right now, including the duck, which he found on the Internet in Oregon. His most valuable vehicle is what is nicknamed the “Seep.” It’s official name is a “Ford GPA,” it’s a rare item and is like a small amphibious jeep, says Griffin.

“There were only about 12,000 manufactured and there are only about 1,500 still left,” he said. “It’s the most valuable vehicle I have, and of course, I did not know its value when I first got it.”

All five of his vehicles were in the Nov. 14 Veterans Day Parade that rolled down Goodyear Boulevard and West Canal Street in Picayune.

The MCW was the major attraction for the Nov. 14 parade. MCW along with the Picayune Memorial High School Jr. ROTC sponsored the parade and they expect it to grow larger each year.

Groups of Coast Watchers were formed during World War II to watch America’s coasts during the war and that is the original organization from which the current restoration groups take their name.

The local MCW group was formed in 2001.