As Memorial Day approaches, I’m looking forward to watching a surplus of war movies on TV.  I’m also hooked on the Military Channel. I never tire of seeing the Allies win World War II in black and white.

When it comes to war remembrance, Dietmar Herzog is more hands-on. His hobby is restoring military vehicles. He currently owns three: a Hummer, an M35 troop transport and an M818 semi. Herzog has driven military vehicles in past Memorial Day parades in Mt. Prospect and River Forest.

Herzog also exhibits his vehicles at military expos and auto shows. Veterans of Middle East wars get a kick out of seeing the Hummer. It prompts them to open up to Herzog about their tours of duty.

Three WW II veterans who rode with Herzog in a Memorial Day parade were absolutely thrilled with the Hummer. One of them, who somehow survived the Normandy invasion driving a tank destroyer, said the Hummer was, “A lot better than what we had.”

Herzog doesn’t just bond with US veterans. He met a survivor from the German battleship Bismarck, who spoke of how humanely he was treated by the British after his ship was sunk.

Herzog’s parents were also survivors of wartime Germany. His father Alex drove a half-track for the German Army during WWII. His dad was advancing toward Stalingrad, when he learned that battle had been lost. Alex retreated, hoping he would fall into American or British hands.  After hearing of his parent’s precarious adventures, Herzog couldn’t forget there are two sides to each battle.

Herzog was fluent in German himself, when he was growing up in Forest Park. After graduating from Proviso East, he became a machinist. His military hobby started in 1984, when he was offered an M35 cargo truck for $400. Herzog used his mechanical skills to restore it. He took on a Jeep next.

In 1999, he bought the Hummer, which had been assembled from military surplus parts. Herzog re-assembled it. He also fabricated parts for the vehicle, to bring it up to date.

The 1993 H1 has four-wheel drive and an automatic transmission. Though it has armor protecting the doors, floorboards and tailgate, it can reach a top speed of 55 mph.  Herzog added an extended nose, with winch and smoke grenade launchers, among other accessories.

Herzog has lived all of his 46 years in Forest Park. He recalled when our town used to have a Memorial Day parade. It’s been replaced by a small ceremony at the Park. In any case, Herzog sees the holiday as more than an excuse for a cookout.

He’s listened to the war stories and when his H1 rumbles to life, he hears the diesel-throated roar that accompanied our soldiers, as they sped across the sun-baked terrain of Afghanistan and Iraq. 

John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.