Local lends war artifacts

Local WWII veteran Dan Stark, pictured in his 1943 Army Jeep, has loaned his collection of war artifacts to the “Pieces: Communities Collection from WWII” exhibit in Agoura Hills.

It’s not every day that you see an authentic 1943 Army jeep on the road. But that’s what happened recently, as Malibu resident Dan Stark taxied his historic military vehicle through Malibu Canyon en route to Agoura Hills City Hall to support the city’s commemoration of wartime heroes.

The Willys MB U.S. Army Jeep was manufactured by Ford as a 4-wheeldrive light utility vehicle, but was originally designed by Bantam Motors in 1938 in Pennsylvania.

“Bantam was a small company and didn’t have the manpower to build the amount of jeeps the army required at the time,” Stark said. “So all jeeps were made by Ford or Willy.”

Stark, a retired Korean War veteran with 23 years of naval service in active duty and on reserve, has owned the jeep for 15 years and refers to it as “a very unique piece of history.”

“There were so many built in time of war, but so few are still around,” Stark said.

Throughout the month of April, the Agoura Hills One City, One Book program is paying tribute to the New York Times bestselling book “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand about WWII veteran Louis Zamperini. In conjunction with the program, the city’s Cultural Arts Council organized an exhibit honoring local WWII veterans by displaying donated memorabilia at the Agoura Hills library.

Stark also donated copies of four original aviation art prints done by aviation artists. The paintings illustrate WWII aircraft in combat situations and are all signed by the pilots who flew the planes during the war.

“It is the first time the program has been expanded to this degree,” said Cim Castellon, a member of the Agoura Hills Cultural Arts Council. “More than 25 families from Northridge to Oxnard have donated some very unusual pieces.”

The World War II exhibit is titled “Pieces: Communities Collection from WWII.”

Some of the donated items on display include a Nazi chest that held ammunition, a pillowcase embroidered in lace from France, love letters, a Purple Heart medal, framed memorabilia from family members of veterans who have passed away, newspaper headings, framed Flying Tigers posters and much more.

The mayor of Agoura Hills selected “Unbroken” for the city’s One City, One Book program. The book tells the story of WWII veteran Louis Zamperini, who went from a troubled youth to a rising Olympic runner for the USA until his career was put on hold to fight in WWII.

Trained as a bombardier, Zamperini’s plane crashed in the middle of the South Pacific, where he survived 47 days on a raft in shark-infested waters, only to be captured by the Japanese. He suffered nearly two years as a prisoner of war before the war ended, returning home to fight his own personal demons of rage and revenge until finding redemption and forgiveness through religion. The book is the inspiration for the exhibit.

Zamperini spoke at the Agoura Hills Regency Theater last Wednesday to a crowd of more than 400 people.

“He’s [Zamperini] quite an interesting person,” Stark said. “The Torrance airport is named after him.”

The main exhibit is located in the Fireside Room in the Agoura Hills library and is open to the public during library hours. The jeep is on view during city hall hours. The complex is located at 29901 Ladyface Ct., Agoura Hills. The exhibit will run until May 1.

Stark, 80, has lived in Malibu for 33 years with his wife Carole. They are both active in the Chamber of Commerce and are on the Ambassador committee. They have eight children and love living in Malibu.

“I love the closeness to the ocean combined with the rural feeling of Malibu,” Stark said. “Malibu is unique because it has so many small businesses that are run by locals.”

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