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WWII driver 'Jeep' Sanza recalls Patton, Eisenhower


&‘&‘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 <NO1><NO>downtown Napa Victorian he shares with his wife, Evelyn.

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 <NO1><NO>in U.S. history.

"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 <NO1><NO>Company.

"He never rode in the back seat. There was nobody who ever rode with us, just him and me."

Sanza drove Patton along the Third Army's hard-driven advance through France and into Germany. The general's objective, closer to an obsession, couldn't have been clearer to Sanza.

Patton was determined to arrive in Berlin ahead of any other allied army and to personally deliver an end to Chancellor Adolf Hitler. Sanza believes that was the ultimate goal Patton prayed for as he dropped to one knee each day before he climbed into the passenger seat.

"By the time he had his second leg in the jeep, he'd start swearing. Old George, he knew how to swear," Sanza said. He knew the restless general was feeling especially troubled if he began hitting the windshield with the riding crop he carried.

Though his fellow GIs called him Jeep, Sanza said Patton never addressed him by his nickname, his actual name or his rank. "He called me &amp;&lsquo;Soldier,'<TH>" he said.

It was a title of great honor for Patton, who drove his men hard but also praised and defended them. Sanza remembers the day, just before Christmas of 1944, during the Battle of the Bulge, when Patton told him they could stop at a Red Cross canteen near Bastogne.

Sanza paid 10 francs for a cup of coffee and two crullers. He said that when Patton ordered his snack, the young woman serving him said, "General, you don't have to pay."

He shot back,"But you're charging my boys?"

Sanza said the general asked to see the money the canteen had collected. The woman picked up and handed to him an orange crate full of bills.

Sanza said Patton took a cigarette lighter from a pocket and set fire to one franc note, then dropped it into the crate. He watched the money burn, then walked to the jeep for a pick and shovel.

He buried the ashes, "box and all," Sanza said. Then the general turned to the<NO1><NO> Red Cross worker and told her, "When you go back to your commander, you tell him you met up with George Patton."

As German resistance withered early in 1945, Sanza sensed that his boss could almost taste the triumph that would come with entering Berlin. Back on the eve of D-Day he'd vowed, "I am personally going to shoot that paper-hanging sonofabitch Hitler."

But Eisenhower decided to leave the taking of Berlin to the Russians. Sanza said he saw tears in Patton's eyes as it sank in that the Third Army would not enter the German capital.

"When we found out we weren't going in, he was a different guy altogether," Stanza said. He last saw Patton shortly after Germany's surrender to the Allies in early May of 1945. Seven months later, the former driver grieved at the news that his general had died following a traffic collision in Germany.

Sanza took a civilian job on Mare Island after the war. He and Evelyn settled in Napa and raised four children, who've now brought them 11 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

For many years now, he's even signed his checks, "Jeep Sanza." He can only imagine what Patton might have said or done had he been allowed to march his army all the way into Berlin, but he's quite certain "I would have been there with him."