Ken Kafka owns a Ford GTB, a rare and celebrated “Burma jeep.” It was built in 1943 to be used on the famed “Burma Road” that links India to China.
Yet Kafka, with the Colorado Military Historical Group, can’t find any evidence any Ford GTBs were ever used on the road during World War II.
“The road was to haul freight into China so they wouldn’t have to fly it over the hump, which are the Himalayas,” Kafka said. “Unfortunately, the road got completed just as the war ended.”
Kafka has scoured the history about the Ford jeeps. Legend says that hundreds – perhaps 1,000 by the account of one history buff – were used on the Burma Road. That set Kafka on a search of photos and other historic records to see if it was true.
“But upon my research there is no photographic evidence they were used in the China-Burma-India theater,” he said. “I found this out by a historian-collector from England who had found 60,000 photos of Burma Road. Not a single Burma jeep was on the road.”
That leaves a bit of a mysterious cloud looming over Kafka’s vehicle now on display at the Brighton City Museum. It is part of an ongoing exhibit called, “A Century of Service-Colorado’s Citizen Soldiers and the Brighton Historic Armory.” It had its first open house on Sept. 23.
The Burma jeep is designed as low profile with short, tight steering. The Navy used them to haul heavy things.
But it isn’t immediately clear to even the Navy if Ford GBTs ever navigated the Burma Road as legend claims. The Brighton Standard-Blade contacted the Navy’s Naval History and Heritage Command office in Washington to ask.
”We will not be able to get you an answer by your deadline as this will likely involve some digging into… records,” said Lt. Ian McConnaughey of the Public Affairs Office Communication and Outreach Division. “We will look into it, but we will need some flexibility to get you an answer.”
As our Colorado Community Media newsroom, and Kafka, wait for the answer, Kafka said the history of the presence of the Ford jeeps in other places is less debatable. He found evidence that some jeeps were used during the Korean War.
His jeep is not the only thing on display at the Brighton City Museum.
The third level of the museum has a collection from the National Military Museum of the Rockies, which has partnered with the museum. Barry Hildebrandt is a historian collector bringing a collection of World War II Japanese and Marine Corps uniforms.
“The uniforms he brought will change out in December,” Bill Armstrong, with the city, said. “He is the sole collector and curator. With this private collection we have a display of uniforms of the different periods that would have been involved in Colorado’s establishing of the National Guard.”
Armstrong said the exhibit on the third floor will be permanent and enhanced periodically and could expand to include more.
“The exhibit would be specifically be about the war records from 1890s through today,” Armstrong said.
Armstrong said he had a video of 157th Infantry Company K, who represented all of Colorado and other western states.
“They were an overseas force that liberated the concentration camp at Dachau in Nazi Germany,” he said. “So, there’s a video of it which is public domain. So, we would like to feature that even though the Brighton Armory was closed back then, but it’s about the veterans and service members of the community and their history.”
Armstrong said the people who volunteered for service have been part of Brighton’s character since it was built. The opera house was the first armory, which started in the 1890s and 1903.
As for Kafka’s Burma jeep mystery, he is still on the hunt for answers. He’s a veteran. So, he has lots of potential sources to check with, including his friends in the Colorado Military Historical Group, which reenacts history, focusing on World War II. They participate in parades, veterans’ reunions, and airshows, bringing a collection of vehicles.
“The Burma jeep was being built for the Burma Road,” Kafka said. “It’s how it got nicknamed the Burma jeep, but it’s a pure Ford truck all the way through. They built about 8,000, but the army guys didn’t like them.”
But were they ever on the Burma Road? For now, it is a mystery of history unless someone or some organization, like the Navy, can clear it up.
The Brighton City Museum is located at 22 S. 4th Ave.