‘‘Jeep” isn't the nickname 92-year-old Francis Sanza started out with. Nor, surprisingly, is it a name his wartime boss, Gen. George “Old Blood and Guts” Patton, ever called him.
Sanza, for decades a resident of Napa and a sales representative for Clover Stornetta Farms, grew up as the little guy in a family of five boys and two girls in the impoverished Pennsylvania coal-mining village of Forestville.
A brother tagged him with the diminuitive nickname, “Chickie.” It stuck until shortly after Sanza went into the army early in 1941 and drew an assignment in vehicle maintenance.
“I helped demonstrate the first jeep,” he recalled at a windowside table at the
He said that as he showed off a prototype jeep's durable nature by driving it mostly submerged in North Carolina's Pee Dee River in the spring of 1941, impressed spectators included British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and U.S. Army Col. Dwight D. Eisenhower, who would become the approaching world war's supreme Allied commander and later the 34th president of the United States.
It was about the time of the amphibious exhibition that another GI dubbed Sanza “Jeep.” The nickname became permanent when, during preparations in 1944 for the Allied invasion of German-occupied France, Lt. Gen. Patton scrutinized Sanza's credentials and chose him as one of his drivers.
Through the next year — from D-Day until the end of the war in Europe in May of 1945 — Sanza drove a jeep with three stars on the side, spoke when spoken to and developed a sense of the heart and mettle of one of the most brilliant and disputed generals
“He never asked me about my home or nothin'. But remember, he had a big job on his head,” said Stanza, who served in the Army's 3457th Ordnance Medium Automotive Maintenance