Veterans given rides in classic British sports cars they love
By JOHN KELLY | The Washington Post | Published: July 1, 2019
"I don't happen to see a Morgan," said Rob Carey as he ambled with his cane toward a line of fetching British sports cars parked Saturday morning at the Armed Forces Retirement Home in the District of Columbia.
There weren't any Morgans, but there were nearly a dozen MGs, brought by members of the MG Car Club. Owners were giving rides around the grounds of the home to anyone who wanted one.
"Look at my new golf cart!" exclaimed one resident as he whizzed by in a primrose yellow MGB, its top down.
Carey once owned a Morgan, the idiosyncratic, wood-framed British sports car. He said his wife, Mary, used to rib him about it. "She'd say: 'Rob likes his Morgan. And you know, everything that falls off of it is first-class.'"
Carey is 95. During World War II he crossed the Atlantic 14 times, a Navy radio operator on convoy duty.
In civilian life, he'd been a trumpet player.
"They put all the musicians in radio then," he said. The brass thought anyone who knew musical notes would have no problem picking up the dots and dashes of Morse code.
After the war, Carey got out of the service, joined the musicians' union and blew his horn all around the District, wherever the union sent him. Except for circuses. He drew the line at circuses.
"A useless amount of noise," he explained, before ambling back toward his building.
About 300 veterans live in the Armed Forces Retirement Home. Each has a story. On this steamy morning, I wanted to hear their car stories.
"I loved Lincolns," said Martin Cody, 88, who'd deftly navigated his mobility chair to get closer to the sports cars gleaming in the sun. His favorite was a Lincoln Mk. IV, a land yacht from the 1970s, with a bulge at the back for the spare tire.
Cody served in the Navy in aviation supply, checking equipment as it was offloaded from aircraft carriers. He spent his time at the naval base in Quonset, Rhode Island, which he chose after graduating top of his class from the Navy supply school.
He liked to swim and picked the duty station after researching which had the best pool. That was Quonset. It had big pools because the Navy dropped planes into them so pilots could practice getting out.
Cody doesn't drive any more, and two years ago he sold his last Lincoln to another resident. It was a 2001 model, silver with a landau roof.
"It was a beautiful car," he said. "The dashboard looked like an airplane, so many dials and whatnot."
MG Car Club member John Puglisi came to a stop in his MGB, and Jim Hunnicutt levered himself out of its tiny cabin.
"I drive Cadillacs," said Hunnicutt, 74. "If I get in a crash, I want something around me."
For most of his military career, Hunnicutt had a submarine around him. He served on eight subs during his 24 years in the Navy. He agreed that veterans seem to have an affinity for cars, for the satisfaction that comes from working on them, the pleasure that comes from driving them.
"You get back to the States after six or eight months and you haven't seen a car, you make a road trip," he said.
Roger Luikens made plenty of those. He joined the Air Force in 1947, right after high school. He once drove his MG TD from Seattle to New York, stopping in Minnesota to see his family. He sold that car in Tucson before being transferred to Japan, where he worked on B-29 and B-50 bombers.
In Japan, he bought an ice-blue Austin Healey 100-4.
"I drove the hell out of the thing," he said.
He sold the Healey when he was stationed in Germany - maintaining F-100s at Bitburg - and bought a Borgward coupe. He brought that back the States. It ended up somewhere in Texas.
Why the love of cars?
"We were exposed to them more frequently," said Luikens, 90.
It was U.S. Army Air Corps pilots who fell in love with MGs, Triumphs, Sunbeams and the like in England and brought them back to America.
"I really appreciate the support of the MG Car Club," said Susan Bryhan, the retirement home's administrator. She's a Navy vet with her own cool car: a Volkswagen Corrado, a hot, two-door hatchback. Her Navy pilot brother had a Triumph TR250. (My Air Force pilot father had a Triumph TR3 and an Aston Martin DB6.)
"We're looking for recruits," Bryhan said. Enlisted personnel are eligible to live at the retirement home, which occupies a pleasant rise and has its own golf course.
"It should really be called the Armed Forces Country Club," said Martin Cody. "It's the world's best-kept secret."
He spun in his mobility chair and took me to see the Lincoln he sold a couple years back, parked not far away.
"A wonderful road car," he said wistfully.