23d LRS civilian brings Vietnam ambulance back to life

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Sandra Marrero
  • 23d Wing Public Affairs
An almost extinct model of jeep ambulance used in the Vietnam War was brought back to life at the 23d Logistics Readiness Squadron vehicle maintenance shop.

The 1967 M151 jeep ambulance was considered a high rollover risk. For this reason, most of the vehicles were either sold overseas or scrapped.

To have one of these vehicles that's operational in the United States is exceedingly rare.

In March 2000, when it arrived at the shop, the ambulance immediately caught the eye of one man. At the time the jeep did not run, but John Zakar, 23d LRS service writer for the vehicle maintenance customer service center and a retired U.S. Air Force senior master sergeant, knew it had potential.

"As maintenance troops you always want to see something operationally sound and beneficial to those around you," said Zakar. "It being an old relic like that just made it more satisfying for me to see it being put to good use. When it came to life ... I probably had a smile from here to California, so it was pretty cool."

As soon as he saw the jeep, Zakar popped the hood and tried to figure out what kind of engine and transmission it had, said Marion Mitchell, 23d LRS vehicle fleet manager. Mitchell said Zakar was the one who actually researched how to get it running, taking the time to learn the vehicle and how to operate it.

"I saw it sitting around the compound, and I asked about it," said Zakar. "They said 'it doesn't run,' so I kind of took a look at it and in short order just changed a set of sparkplug wires and changed the fuel filters ... and she came to life. She's been living ever since."

Although he never said it out loud, Zakar claimed the project as his own.

"Because of the interest and the passion he showed, everybody was like, 'OK, that's Zakar's jeep. That's his baby,'" said Mitchell. "It has been that way since then."

As result of Zakar's efforts, the jeep affectionately named Gertrude has been a special part of many events at Moody over the past 13 years.

"We have had a lot of requests for the jeep," said Mitchell. "We usually run it in the tree-lighting parade. Some units contact us and want to use it as a static display for changes of command."

Mitchell said there have been occasions in which a commander wanted to get rid of the jeep, but changed their mind after riding in it during a parade and becoming captivated by its magic just like Zakar.

But maintaining the jeep hasn't been Zakar's only side project. He has also taken young Airmen at the shop under his wing and helped them reach their full potential, just as he did with the ambulance.

"I like to mentor the young Airmen here and keep them on the straight track whether it be in their job position or off base," said Zakar. "They kind of look at me like an old-man dad I guess."

Just as Zakar gets joy seeing Airmen growing personally and professionally, he gains satisfaction in knowing he is keeping the history of the Vietnam War and vehicle maintenance alive.

Zakar hopes when people see the jeep in parades or used as a static display it will pique their curiosity to learn more about the Vietnam War.

Zakar said he gets questions at events from curious onlookers and jumps at the opportunity to discuss the importance of the M151.

"It was used extensively in the Vietnam War and that's an era that I went through," said Zakar. "I was never in Vietnam, but if you're a veteran you can associate. It's like a symbol to me of days gone by that I want to keep alive."

His goal has always been to retire at age 62, but Zakar does not know if he is willing to say goodbye to his job in the next two years. What Zakar does know is he hopes someone else will be just as invested in his pet project.

"I hope the adoration I have for what that thing has been through and its history is kept up and that somebody else takes the torch," said Zakar.