Griffiths’ Army vehicles move him

Gordon Griffiths stands with his vintage military vehicles on a recent Friday outside his Glenmoor garage. He has been collecting and restoring them for about 15 years. (Photo by Stephen Huba)

EAST LIVERPOOL–Gordon Griffiths is everything a Korean War veteran might be expected to be.

He has a gruff, no-nonsense manner. His language is sprinkled with salty epithets. His friends call him “Griff.”

But unlike a lot of veterans his age, he doesn’t hesitate to talk about his military career–especially the vehicles that captured his fascination back in the day and that continue to claim his loving attention.

What he once relied on as an Army staff sergeant training in the harsh Alaskan frontier, he now has turned into an avocation that he shares with others.

Griffiths, 86, of Pleasant Heights, has acquired a small fleet of military vehicles that he has restored to the point where, in the words of one veteran, “they look like they just came off the assembly line.”

There’s a 1951 Willys jeep, his first acquisition, and a 1952 Willys jeep that he painted red. There’s a 1942 Dodge Command Car, the likes of which was used by Gen. George Patton. And there’s a 1963 Dodge Weapons Carrier, a three-quarter ton truck used in both the Korean and Vietnam conflicts.

“Being in the military, we found jeeps all the time. That’s all we used,” Griffiths said.

On a recent Friday, Griffiths brought them out of their garage and let them gleam in the bright sunlight. He has restored them all by having them sandblasted, covered with a protective epoxy coating and painted.

Today, East Liverpool residents will most likely see them featured in the annual Veterans Day parade.

Griffiths enlisted in the Army in 1948 at age 18 and served in the 4th Regimental Combat  Team, the second-oldest infantry regiment in the Army, until his discharge in 1952. He did his training in Fort Knox, Ky., and Fort Lewis, Wash., before taking a troop ship to Alaska in the days before it was a state.

There, he served in a machine gun platoon–first at Fort Richardson near Anchorage and then at Ladd Field in Fairbanks. Griffiths learned the ways of arctic warfare in temperatures as low as 30 below zero. He served as a ski instructor and earned the confidence of his superiors–so much so that they chose him to lead training missions.

Although the Army was mostly about cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, Griffiths also tells stories of ill-fated attempts at ski-jumping and downhill skiing.

Griffiths said the Army took a “naive, bashful” boy from East Liverpool and turned him into a man.

“The Army makes you grow up in one hell of a hurry,” he said. “The guys who don’t go into the service today, they’re missing out, especially the camaraderie part of it.”

The important thing, he said, is to “keep your mouth shut and do what you’re told.”

When Griffiths returned home, he joined the local carpenter’s union and began a contracting career. He later founded the Corolla Construction Co. and stayed active in commercial construction until his retirement at age 59.

Griffiths and his wife of 59 years raised two children and spent their retirement years traveling around the country in their motor home. Fannie Lee Griffiths died in 2013 at age 81.

Griffiths belongs to the Military Vehicle Preservation Association and the Korean War Veterans Association (Chapter 126). “Our whole thing in life is to save military stuff,” he said.

He takes his vehicles to the East Liverpool Veterans Day parade, the Fourth of July parade in Midland, Pa., and other events. He also collects vintage military trailers, gas cans and ammunition containers–all of which jogs memories of wartime spent in the wilds of Alaska.

“I had a lot of fun. I had a lot of experiences in the service,” he said.