Ledyard family donates 1941 truck to U.S. Army

Ledyard — On Monday morning at Floyd's Garage, Robert Cade chained a 1941 Dodge WC-12 Army truck to his Conestoga trailer.

He was dealing with an olive-green truck – shinier than its original olive-drab color – with a white star on one side and a weapons rack on the other. Written on the glove compartment was the maximum speed: 35 mph.

Debby Caldwell warned there might be mice in the seat, from the years that she and her husband, Dan Caldwell, stored the truck in their barn on Haley Road.

Debby's father, Andy Martischang, purchased the truck at an auction in Salt Lake City in 1945, to be used on his fox fur ranch in Evergreen, Colo.

This truck took Debby's parents on their first date to an amusement park, plowed snow, hauled things on the ranch, and participated in more than a dozen parades in Ledyard.

Now, the truck is entering the custody of the U.S. Army, a fitting memorial to someone who bought it after serving as a waist gunner on B-24s bombers in World War II.

"Oh, this would make my dad happy," Debby said as she watched the truck being loaded. "I know he loved this truck."

It will be stored in Alabama until a museum is ready to display it, and the family hopes that it will eventually have a home in the not-yet-completed National Museum of the United States Army in Fort Belvoir, Va.

From Utah to Colorado to Connecticut

Staff Sgt. Andrew Martischang flew 30 missions over France and Germany during World War II and earned the Distinguished Flying Cross, Debby said.

Dan said Martischang told him that on a mission, one of the four engines was shot out, making the propeller turn with the wind and causing the use of extra fuel due to drag. The plane was low on fuel, and so Martischang went out on the wing and blocked the propeller with a two-by-four, allowing the plane to have enough fuel to return to the base.

Debby's sister, Tracy Kovach, said her father didn't talk about his experiences a lot, and that much of what she learned was from Dan's research.

After Martischang's death in 1985, the truck came into Kovach's possession in Colorado, and she hired a man for restorations — including painting, replacing the floorboard and reupholstering.

Through a mutual friend, Kovach met Col. Allen Hatheway, who stopped by and wrote an article about the truck for the summer 1987 issue of Army Motors, the journal of the Military Vehicle Preservation Association.

Kovach became a member of the Military Vehicles Collectors of Colorado, which invited her to drive the truck in the Denver St. Patrick's Day Parade. She also occasionally drove her mother to Denver Broncos games in the truck.

But living in a condominium, Kovach struggled with storage of the truck and began to feel she was taking advantage of other people's interest in helping her. So Dan and Debby — who moved from Colorado to Ledyard because of Dan's service in the Navy in the 1970s — said they would take the truck.

In 2001, Dan and his son hauled it across the country on a rental flatbed.

Dan has driven the truck in the Ledyard Memorial Day Parade 13 or 14 times, he said, and people in the military stand up and salute.

While most renovations were done in the 1980s, Dan added gas tanks and a canvas cover. The Caldwells occasionally took the truck to Floyd's Garage for repairs, and Dan said that the late former owner Floyd Chesbro, a Korean War veteran, was excited to work on it.

A lengthy donation process

The process of donating the truck began nearly three years ago, when the sisters decided it was time to give the truck a permanent home, and one where others could enjoy it, Tracy said.

In November 2016, Kovach got into contact with the Connecticut Military Vehicle Collectors, which was unable to commit to a donation at the time. In December, she reached out to Allen Hatheway, the man who wrote the 1987 article.

He determined the truck was valued at $20,000 and helped the family get in touch with an executive officer at the U.S. Army Center of Military History.

In February 2017, Debby wrote a gift offer letter, and in November, she got a letter from the center accepting the truck. The family worked with the center over the next several months on transportation arrangements and funding, until they heard from Cade.

Both Kovach and Debby grew emotional as they thought about what they truck meant to their father; Kovach thinks he would be proud they took care of it for so long.

"I think it represented a really important part of his past, which allowed him to make a new beginning at what became the rest of his natural life," Debby said, "with a family and a big piece of property and a new career. He became a Dodge salesman."



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