Last weekend I achieved a small personal milestone that has been several years in the making. Namely, I participated in a living history event at Gettysburg.
[ pause for applause ]
This will probably surprise exactly no one that my historical interests were tending towards this, but I myself only became aware I was going in this direction about a year ago. Almost exactly a year ago, to be specific, when history friend Mel and I went to the Eisenhower Farm for their annual WW2 day. I wrote about that in one of my very first blog entries. And the rest, as they say, is history.
[ Get it? Get it??? History!!! Like this blog! … okay … ]
I joined my friends the Polish Army at Eisenhower Farm on the participant side, specifically the 10th Dragoon Regiment, 2nd Squadron. Once I know exactly what that means, I’ll let you know. I must also regretfully inform you that no actual dragons are present in this group, much like how the Union Jack recently got jipped out of including the Welsh Dragon
And so to the weekend:
As mentioned in the previous post, Abner Rainbow, the fighter pilot who flew an astounding 105 missions over Europe, made it clear that he was just doing his job and looking out for the guy next to him, that no one was looking for Purple Hearts or special recognition, and that if we were in his position, we would do the same thing.
I sincerely hope that is the case.
One of my dance partners, who had breakfasted with Wild Bill and was thoroughly blown away by the older man’s stories, said that it was a different culture nowadays. One of us observed that now, the servicemen/women seem more concerned with how they can change the military to fit them than they used to be. It was probably me making the observation because the partner, an active duty serviceman, generally agreed although everyone he knows/works with are all good people.
Maybe this change happened because WW2 was much more urgent, that the fate of the whole of Western Civilization hung on the outcome, and that the current wars of recent memory have been much more abstract in nature? Maybe it’s because we, as a nation, are wealthier and have more material expectations from life, almost like a sense of entitlement? Maybe it’s just something that happened with no explanation?
- A majority of the people we interacted with were retired or active duty military.
- These events are militaristic. The people are really good at drills and precision. Like so. But they’re less serious than a real military thing. Which is fine with me. There is still plenty of “Yes, sir,” and “No, sir,” and they speak in current and past acronyms that start sounding like alphabet soup after too long.
- The community, although not without its politics, is fun – a very respectful group of nerds who get together and talk about the nuances of everything, from thread count in British canvas to why the assassination attempt on Hitler was really a good/bad idea in the long run.
- There’s also the cultural immersion aspect – the sliding scale of authenticity from women’s hairstyles to cutlery to music. And then there’s the sliding scale of authenticity adherence – are his knickers authentic or are they from a 6-pack of Fruit of the Loom from Wal-Mart? (Answer: depends on who you ask.)
- These people do it, more or less, to honor the guys who actually did it, and the most rewarding thing that could happen is for one of them to meet a veteran from a unit they’re portraying and to be told, “Good job.” Naturally, this means the focus tends to be on militaristic things – weapons, tanks/vehicles, strategy, the War Effort, Buy War Bonds, Save Scrap Metal, Uncle Sam Wants YOU. There is less emphasis on the really unpleasant bits. That is, there aren’t a lot of people dressing up like Holocaust victims/survivors. That’s just – no.
- This event was different than Civil War events. Although the CW happened so long ago that we’re now on Robert E Lee VI, the themes of government authority and race are still alive today. But WW2 – the technology and artifacts are much more current, but the themes of stopping a super-race and world domination, are largely irrelevant. (Genocide, on the other hand, is for another post.) It’s an interesting juxtaposition.
- And because I needed to share this: The British guys do a pretty convincing accent. When someone asked where they had learned to speak like that, they answered, “Rosetta Stone.” The little old British lady said, “Oh, I didn’t know they could teach you to have an accent.” (They explained themselves to her, don’t worry.)
Here, have a picture of a big metal tank-y thing.
And an old British car.
… not THIS type of Moving Pictures …
Instead of updating last post and ruining that thing of beauty, I’m putting all the videos from WW2 weekend here.
First ride in Jeepie! Approaching the Polish camp before making a right and driving from the camp.
From the dance. This couple is fun to watch and apparently make the circuit of World War 2 themed dances. Their son was there and looked like he was equally phenomenal at dancing.
Second ride in Jeepie! Yelling insults at the American GIs as we pass down the main drive.
Over the weekend of September 21-22, there was a Living History event at the Eisenhower farm, which happens to be at Gettysburg. During WW2, the battlefield was owned by the Department of Something, so Eisenhower and Patton and those guys brought tanks up to practice shooting them.
A brief history of the farm, according to the NPS pamphlet:
The Eisenhowers bought the house and farmland in 1950 from a fellow named Allen Redding, planning to retire. They had to structurally restore the building, and the finished product had eight bedrooms, nine bathrooms, and an extensive kitchen, among other rooms. The land itself is at least 189 acres. However, two years later he was elected President and served two terms in office before they finally retired to the farm. According to the literature, their favorite spot was the glassed in porch, where they could watch the sunrise over the rolling Pennsylvania mountains. I bet it was glorious. The front drive to the main property is lined with trees, one from every state. Mamie would ask him how far he’d walked, and he would reply with, “Minnesota” or “Oregon” and she would know how far he had gone.
Ok, now to the weekend.