Wednesday, October 13, 2010

WWII Weekend

At Eisenhower National Historic Site

The National Park Service at Gettysburg once again hosted its annual World War II Weekend on the grounds of President Dwight Eisenhower's farmstead. Approximately 300 WWII reenactors portraying various nationalities and backgrounds encamped on Ike's backyard. These included Americans (mostly) but also Germans, Poles, Brits, Russians, and Australians. Perhaps most significantly, dozens of WWII veterans joined us throughout the day, many of whom gave lectures and war reminiscences to eager-to-listen audiences.

Included in this historical extravaganza was my unit - the First Allied Airborne - a squad-sized unit with both British and American Airborne troops established prior to Operation Market Garden which served throughout the war. The photo at right is me in my Airborne uniform. This picture is courtesy of Bill Dowling Photography of Gettysburg. Below are just a few photos from the memorable weekend.

We spoke to hundreds of visitors each day. We discussed the daily life of the GI, his weaponry, and the war at large.

I portrayed a Stars and Stripes correspondent artist doing Bill Mauldin style cartoons and comics of American GIs. Through his cartoons, soldiers were often able to vent their daily frustrations through laughter rather than grief. In his memory, I draw away. Some of these cartoons will be shown here in the near future.

College buddy Justin Shope takes a break sitting on a military food case, toting a Tommy Gun.

Of course, there were dozens of other tents and exhibits. The scene above depicts part of a much larger field hospital display. Reminds you a little bit of M*A*S*H* huh?

Determining the weather was a vital factor in deciding when the Normandy invasion was to take place. Originally scheduled for June 5, 1944, the massive assault was pushed back a day for a break in the dismal Channel weather. Group Captain James Martin Stagg of the British RAF was the chief meteorologist for the allies and helped determine the date.

Since I was portraying a reporter, I found the War Correspondents' tent to be particularly intriguing. Talk about a lot of vintage typewriters, cameras, and notepads...

As you can see, there was no shortage of jeeps, trucks, and half tracks in the event's motor pool.

Another interesting exhibit was that of the Monuments Fine Art tent. Beginning in the early 1930s, Hitler's Reich stole thousands of pieces of valuable artwork including those of Rembrandt, Da Vinci, and scores of others. In the final days of the war, Allied soldiers known as "the Monuments Men" scavenged the German countryside to recover these lost treasures. Most were found and returned to their respective owners - if they were still alive.

A restored U.S. half track.

Some Royal Air Force Pilots enjoying their tea of course!

That Sunday included a religious service with a jeep hood as the altar, much like original field services during the war.

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