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Army tapped Cold War vet's knowledge as he grew up in auto business

As an only child, Jim DeLacy Sr. recalls going to his father's Lancaster car dealership, sitting in the showroom cars and pretending to drive them.

That was the fun part of the visits that started when he was about 9 years old. There was also work to be done.

"I swept the floor and was paid ten cents an hour," he said of "growing up" at the dealership.

By 16, he had put his broom aside and was selling cars.

The business coursed through his blood. After graduating from Depew High School, DeLacy began taking business courses at the University of Buffalo. It was part of the plan he had mapped out for taking over the family business.

But there was a detour.

"Uncle Sam sent me a letter," he said of his 1956 draft notice.

DeLacy entered the Army at a time when the Cold War between the Soviet Union and United States was firing on all eight cylinders, in a manner of speaking.

Leaving behind a wife and baby daughter, the rising star at DeLacy Motors Inc. on Broadway, where Dodges and Plymouths were sold, was assigned to the 423rd Ordnance Company. The unit provided parts and supplies for military wheeled vehicles, as opposed to track vehicles such as tanks.

"We were an 'R-and-R unit,' which meant remove and replace components on cars, trucks, Jeeps, anything that had a wheel," he explained of his stateside duty.

After serving two years, he was discharged and returned home to work as a car salesman for his dad, Albert J. "Abby" DeLacy. He says he ditched the idea of earning a college degree because of family responsibilities.

But DeLacy continued in the military as an Army reservist, meeting regularly with other unit members in a rented warehouse off Colvin Boulevard in the Town of Tonawanda, where Army vehicles were stored.

Cold War hostilities were manifold at the time. The Soviets went so far as to construct the Berlin Wall, splitting that city in two in 1961.

A year later, the 423rd Ordinance Company was summoned to active duty and DeLacy worked as a supply sergeant at Fort Devens, Mass. Several months into the activation, the unit was sent to Alaska for war games in what was known as "Operation Great Bear."

"We lived there for two months in tents in what they call 'the bush.' We arrived in the first part of January, the coldest part of the year up there and it was 24 hours a day of darkness. The military later gave us a card saying we had survived temperatures of 70 degrees below zero."

Just how cold is that?

"When we would bring our vehicles into camp, we would park them on pine boughs, so that the tires would not freeze to the ground," DeLacy said. "When we put fuel into the trucks, it was 50 percent alcohol and 50 percent gas, so that it wouldn't freeze."

Inside the tents, DeLacy said he and his fellow soldiers huddled around chimney-vented gasoline-fired stoves.

When he was asked if the war games were intended to send a message to the Russians, who were just across the Bering Sea, DeLacy chuckled and said, "Who knows how the military thinks?"

Happy to return to the comparatively balmy Fort Devens, DeLacy said that toward the end of his two-year activation in 1964, he received a call from his commanding officer to report to the Boston Navy Yard.

He and other soldiers were given the job of loading "warm weather gear" onto a ship that was transporting members of the 97th Transportation Company.

"We were loading hammocks and mosquito netting, but we didn't know where the 97th was going. We later read in the Stars and Stripes newspaper that they were heading to Vietnam," DeLacy said. "I was proud to be a part of that."

When he was discharged from his second round of active duty, DeLacy returned home only to be informed that the 423rd Ordnance Company was being disbanded.

"I really enjoyed serving with all the guys in my unit. We'd become family and when the Army disbanded us I was disillusioned. Everyone had to go their own way. I lost all these friends and I decided not to re-enlist."

Uncle Sam's loss was Albert DeLacy's gain.

"My father was delighted to have me back at the dealership," DeLacy said.

Over the years, the family business grew and in 1979 switched to a Ford dealership that is on Transit Road in Elma.

DeLacy and his wife, the former Michele Gutowski, both work at the dealership.

"We've gone from 20 employees to 83 employees," said DeLacy, 84, the father of four children.

Peter DeLacy, his second oldest son, works full time at the dealership and "is my right hand," DeLacy said.

His youngest son, Jim DeLacy Jr., who works in law enforcement, also works part time as a car salesman at the dealership. Scott DeLacy, the oldest son, resides in Florida and works as an insurance claims adjuster.

Jacqueline Wright, the oldest of the children, works as an elementary school teacher in the Sweet Home Central School District.

Of his military service, DeLacy says those years represent some of the best times in his life.

"You make great acquaintances that you never forget," he said.

******

Jim DeLacy Sr., 84

Hometown: Lancaster

Residence: Orchard Park

Branch: Army

Rank: Staff sergeant

Years of service: Drafted 1956-58; Army reserve through 1964

Most prominent honors: Good Conduct Medal, Honorable Discharge

Specialty: Wheel vehicle ordnance

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