Volunteers reenact World War II during American Heroes 2011
April 18, 2011
CAMP MABRY, Texas- Once a year, Austin hosts a Texas Military Forces celebration designed to increase interaction between the local community and service members called American Heroes. One of the more popular events taking place during the two-day event was a World War II reenactment performed by a group of local enthusiasts.
"We see this as a time capsule for our visitors to walk into, so that as much as possible, we can surround them with the look and feel of what happened back in the 1940s," said Director of the Texas Military Forces Museum, Jeff Hunt.
Volunteers as young as 14 participated in the simulation, although most of the reenactors were older. Students, doctors, lawyers, army veterans, historians and teachers comprised a majority of the actors. They slept in World War II style tents near the battlegrounds and did their best to mimic what life was like for American Soldiers of the period.
"For so many kids today, history is compressed. They go through it so fast in the schools and memorize the name, place, date, what happened and regurgitate it on a standardized test," said Hunt. "History is really a much more dramatic and exciting thing than that. We want kids to understand that history is not just a lecture, not an old documentary and it's not a story that grandpa tells that maybe you only half believe. History is something that lives and breathes. You can hear it, you can feel it, you can taste it, you can smell it. When the kids get out here and they feel the rumble of a Sherman tank going by, they hear the crack of one of those guns, they smell the smoke, they see the muzzle flash and they watch people not a lot older than themselves moving across the battlefield, it really does breathe life into the whole experience."
The emulated battle replicates one fought by the 36th Infantry Division during the invasion of southern France. The museum spent more than $4,000 on pyrotechnics, airplanes, vehicles and blank ammunition to wow the audience. To onlookers, the museum's budget may have appeared far more massive because the nearly 180 reenactors augmented the museum's props with their own equipment like uniforms, tents, private vehicles and even tanks.
"If the movie companies were doing this, it'd be a million dollar shot," said Hunt.
"I think it's pretty important that young people understand the luxury of peace they have, the security they have and the freedoms they have," said Hunt. "All of that was purchased and all of that has been secured in the price of service and sacrifice of the men and women in uniform. Many of whom have spilled their blood and many of whom have laid down their lives to give us the kind of world where battles are the sort of thing you reenact and they aren't things that really happen."
"It's good for recruiting because you get a little eight-year-old boy out here watching this battle reenactment and his eyes are popping out," said Hunt, "You know he walks away with a positive attitude about the military and ten years later he's much more likely to raise his right hand and take that oath than a kid who's never been exposed to the history in this way."
"It was really cool and I thought it was a good example of World War II," said Geno Albini, a young boy who watched the show.
Diane Laube, a first-time visitor to the American Heroes celebration, explained her mother was a French denizen who lived through World War II. She imagines that the reenactment might have been what her mother experienced as a young woman in war-torn France.
"I had a great experience here today," said Laube. "Keep doing it, keep educating everybody, because this is a legacy we need to keep perpetuating."