For more than 30 years, Soldiers of the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) have brought to life our nation's history through Spirit of America. The show, a compilation of historical recollections, musical entertainment and military drill, celebrates the contributions of the U.S. Army from 1775 to today. Through their roles in SOA, two Soldiers will not only convey the Army's story to the nation, but personally pay tribute to some of their relatives who served in previous wars.
"I researched both my father's and mother's maiden name and found out [they] trace all the way back to the revolutionary war," said Spc. Cody Battista, infantryman, Charlie Company.
Since that war, Battista has had one or two family members serve in every major battle.
Observing Soldiers re-enact these various eras of conflict during rehearsals gave Battista a glimpse of how the Army has evolved from the one his relatives once served in.
"It's amazing to watch the skits and how the Army went from Soldiers standing in a line, to guerilla warfare, to doing certain formations and squad movements," said Battista. "It's also humbling to think my family helped build the country that it is today."
However, Battista's most inspiring moment came when he was given the chance to personally pay homage to his great-grandfather, a World War II veteran. During his scene, Battista put himself in the mindset of being ambushed by more than 300 German Soldiers while hoping he doesn't get killed.
"Pretending that I am in that era and seeing what he saw, it's hard to fathom," said Battista. "I hope to keep the scene as accurate as possible."
Battista's great-grandfather passed away before he was able to meet him but he feels connected to him through this role.
"It definitely brings us closer," said Battista. "Now I get a chance to somewhat walk a day in his shoes and visualize what he went through and how his life was like in the military as opposed to how my life is now."
Another Soldier shared in his family member's experiences.
Sgt. Jeff Liles, infantryman, Alpha Company, related to his grandfather's experiences as a Korean War Soldier. Liles laughed as he recalled a story his grandfather told him about the war.
"He was like 'Jeff, the M1 [Garand] was heavy so I just left it there on a hilltop in Korea'", said Liles, referring to the semi-automatic weapon Soldiers used during that time period.
After coming off stage, Liles said he understood exactly what his grandfather was referring to.
"I carried the same kind of weapon my grandfather used and it was definitely heavier," said Liles. "The equipment and the stuff we have now is so much better."
Liles also gained a greater appreciation for his grandfather's service.
"I'm acting like I did this, but my grandfather actually did," said Liles. "I go through the hardships for five minutes but my grandfather did this for a long time."
SOA staging director, Harry Bagdasian, is thrilled with the connection these Soldiers have with their relatives and hopes it is conveyed to the audience.
"I want those Soldiers to come out here and tell their stories," said Bagdasian. "Having a relative who has fought in those wars adds extra depth to their performances."
Liles and Battista also hope the audiences will feel the personal touch behind their performances, but ultimately hope to make their family members, both past and present, proud.
"I want [my grandfather] to see that we did a good job portraying stories to honor them," said Liles.
"As long as we continue to do things like Spirit of America, their sacrifices will never be in vain," said Battista.
Audiences can catch Liles, Battista and all the Soldiers of the Old Guard perform beginning Sept. 14, in Greensboro, N.C. For more information on Spirit of America, check out the official website at http://spiritofamerica.mdw.army.mil/.