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How an armored Camaro and a special forces officer kept civilians alive in war-torn Bosnia
Imagine that it’s 1993 in Yugoslavia. Night falls, and the indiscriminate shelling of a brutal civil war echoes in the distance. Amidst the remnants of battle, a flat black shape emerges from the shadows, tires crunching over rubble as it navigates a cratered road. It’s low, menacing, armored, and rumbling with V-8 thunder. The War Camaro is here to help.
Nearly four years of fighting in what is today Bosnia-Herzegovina claimed an estimated 100,000+ casualties. As in so many civil wars, the civilian population during the Bosnian War bore the brunt of the suffering. However, from 1992–1995 a Danish Special Forces officer named Helge Meyer drove his Camaro into the eye of combat. Unarmed, he brought humanitarian aid to the people who needed it most.
Meyer’s car is a 1979 Chevrolet Camaro, a second-gen F-body with the 5.7-liter V-8. In factory trim, this car was hardly the high point of Camaro performance through the ages. Its 350-cubic-inch V-8 produced at best 170 hp, and it had a 0–60 time of around eight seconds. This particular example, however, is anything but factory-spec. The floors and rear are reinforced with sheet steel, there are Kevlar inserts slotted inside the doors, and twin spare wheels and fire-extinguishing equipment are part of the build-out. U.S. Air Force specialists, working in their off-hours, removed all interior lighting, including those for the radio, and fitted a military-grade GPS. The forward headlights are augmented by infrared lights, and the driver carries IR goggles and a body heat detector. Tires are foam-filled to ward off ordinary flats or, at least, allow the Camaro to escape safely and swap in a spare later.
Escape was preferable, because for all his military equipment, the driver of this Camaro carried no firearm. Meyer kept with him a standard combat knife but effectively ventured unarmed into one of the bloodiest struggles of the modern era. And for all its Mad Max appearance, this ’79 Camaro is still just a car. A coating of water-based infrared paint and a bit of extra power under the hood is no replacement for a proper military-spec transport. There’s a good reason the Army uses Humvees to get around and not black-painted, armored Camaros running nitrous.
As a former special forces officer he was hardly lacking in courage, and Meyer’s exploits still defy belief. As improbable as it may seem, Meyer and his Camaro successfully avoided injury or capture over years of running supplies for civilian aid. A man of faith, Meyer credits his guardian angels for watching over him as he bravely navigated roadblocks and slinked away in the night to resupply.
“I bought the Camaro from an American soldier from the U.S. Rhein-Main Air Base, mediated through a German citizen,” Meyer says, translated from his natural Danish. “From the start of the Balkan War in 1991, in Croatia later, and from 1992–1995 in Bosnia. I continued to run emergency aid after the fighting action ceased in 1995, into 2005 in Kosovo.”
Meyer’s wartime efforts appear to have been supported by military organizations but in a somewhat unofficial gray area. Supplies came from the U.S. Army and Air Force humanitarian efforts in the area (U.S. personnel helped him modify the car), and Meyer’s Camaro was particularly effective at getting into places the highly visible, white-painted U.N. supply vehicles couldn’t go.
There were plenty of close calls. Bandits were a constant problem, as was the possibility of hitting a mine in the lightly-armored Camaro. The car took small arms fire a couple of times, and once Meyer was hit in the helmet by a round that lodged there and fortunately did not hit his head.
The Camaro carried medical supplies, food aid, and even toys for the children in the area. Danish company Lego even donated to the effort. Later, when the war had ground to a stalemate but ordinary people still struggled to get by, Meyer continued his efforts, driving into the worst-affected areas on his weekends off. His humanitarian work in the area lasted more than a decade. When he was done, he drove his Camaro home.
If your German or Danish is up to scratch, Meyer has written a book on his experiences, called Gottes Rambo. The title, God’s Rambo, is the nickname he earned for being a sort of pacifist commando—for intense bravery without a weapon in his hand. The book is less about getaway drives than it is about his connection to people who were in desperate need of help.
In one excerpt, he describes coming across a family in the ruined city of Vares, in 1994:
In the middle of ruins I examined the surrounding area with my detector, which reacts to body heat. It displayed body heat in the opposite ruin. I saw candlelight through the boarded up door.
I knocked and the candle went out immediately. After knocking again and saying, “Mr. Meyer U.S. Army!” an old man opened the door and asked me inside. A young woman was present with her newborn baby.
Everyone was dirty and clearly malnourished, and I got soap, water, food, and baby food from my Camaro. The young mother washed herself and her child and gave the newborn something to eat. We sat around the candle silent for a while. The old man read carefully in his Koran and I in my Bible, which is my constant companion.
Then I pulled back into my car, was about to slip into my sleeping bag when someone knocked on my window. It was the young woman who put her baby on my bare chest.
I will never forget this moving moment in my life.
Meyer still has his Camaro, now painted orange. Filled with a sentiment that will no doubt be familiar to some he says, “I still have my War Camaro, I love it very much and my wife hates it just as much. For her it’s just a lot of iron plates.”
There is, indeed, nothing strictly extraordinary about this old warhorse of a Chevrolet. It couldn’t repel bullets, it didn’t smash through barricades, and its success over the years could be prescribed, if you were so inclined, to dumb luck.
But even a cynic must admit that Meyer and his Camaro were a unique pairing of wartime heroes. They went where others wouldn’t dare. They reached out to assist those who were truly in need. During the years of conflict, Meyer and his car developed a reputation; people would hear the rumble of that Chevy V-8 and know that help was on the way.