Uncovering the JEEP Graveyards of WWII

The Allied victory in the Second World War came at a tremendous human cost—a measure of sacrifice well beyond casual reckoning. But the individual GI’s who collectively tipped the balance of that global struggle were aided in no small part by the equipment and vehicles that stewarded them between battles and ferried them to foreign shores. And when it comes to medal-worthy service, few of said vehicles were as beloved by servicemen or as indispensable to winning campaigns as the Willys MB Jeep. Over the course of the war, some 360,000 Jeeps were produced by Willys alone, with Ford pitching in an additional 280,000 to keep up with demand. There are varying stories as to how the name “Jeep” came into being—some say the moniker began as a shortening of “General Purpose,” others, as a tribute to Popeye’s versatile sidekick, “Eugene the Jeep.” But regardless of its provenance, the name stuck.

With the war won, however, tens of thousands of these Jeeps—the very vehicles that had served on the frontlines and helped secure victory—were suddenly superfluous. Some were repurposed to serve at military bases in the burgeoning Cold War with the Soviet Union, but many more were simply no longer needed. The result was the establishment of several “Jeep Graveyards” where decommissioned vehicles were left outdoors, to surrender slowly to time and the elements. One of these graveyards was captured by a Life Magazine photographer in 1949, on the Japanese island of Okinawa. The exact number of Jeeps left there is unknown, although from the photos that exist, it’s safe to say that the graveyard was enormous—just like the contribution made by those sturdy little 4x4s, in the greatest war the world had ever seen.