Friday, July 30, 2010
a few of my friends got the bright idea of doing a book on a very-overlooked historical topic, the Confederate retreat from Gettysburg. Thousands of books had been written on the campaign and the battles, but little had been done about the retreat. It was always an area of great interest they had, and they wanted to learn more about it. In their quest to learn, they also had the desire to educate. They would document what they would learn so that others could have the same experience. years, and 900 cited-references later, the book came out. It was well-worththe wait. Depending on when you ask one of them, they may even tell you it was worth the tremendous time, effort, and frustration spent!
I think that mentality is what drives every historian. You know so much that you realize the amount of information that can still be learned. In your adventure to learn more, you want to teach others. Without historians, authors, teachers, educators, etc., where would we be?
I truly feel that living historians/military reenactors share the same desire. We want to acquire uniforms and equipment, we want to learn tactics, we want to find out the sentiment of the times we are portraying, and we are like great sponges, soaking up any and all knowledge we can. As we absorb this vast amount of knowledge, we can't help but want to share what we learn with others.
That is what being a living historian is all about. You teach history by in a small way becoming much like those you represent. You can tell a classroom full of students that the Civil War uniform was uncomfortably hot, you can tell them that an M-1 Garand rifle made a distinct ping when the empty clip ejected, and you can tell them that the food was bland and often not good. They can say they get it, remember a small bit of it, and move on. That is a basic education.
Add a living historian to the mix, and the students can feel the heaviness of the uniform, and maybe even try it on. The can hear the empty clip eject from the Garand. They can see and possibly taste the rations, etc. Students can learn more in one 40 minute living history program than they can in a semester of classroom education. The in-person,, hands-on experience, the idea that they physically touched a piece of history can outlast all the book-learning experience ever obtained.
I think this is why we do it. I know it is why I do it! It is why I want to read more books, attend more events, buy more gear, and talk with other reenactors. Individually, we can inform. Together, we can teach not only the event attendees, but each other. Everyone has different ideas, sees things differently and draws different conclusions to the same occurrences. By telling each other what we know and see, we can all experience different insight.
In my case, my desire to learn is what fuels my desire to teach. Each time I learn a new fact or get a new piece, I want to show or tell others. It's not bragging, not saying I am better than they are, and not being a snob. It truly is sharing! Sharing in a way that the past is preserved. Sharing in a way that memories are kept alive. Sharing so that the horrible events of the past can be remembered so that they never are repeated.
I had a spectator last weekend ask my a two-part question: Why do we collect all the stuff we do? and Why do we feel the need to haul it out, set it up, and show it off?He thought it would be too expensive and too much trouble.
My answer was that,when you see car collectors or show car owners, they have no problem spending money on their cars. When completed, they haul their cars out and line them up so that they can show them off. I said that I am not a car show person. I'm a militaria collector. I acquire gear, and stockpile it in my basement. I enjoy having it, seeing it, and finding out more about it. I also enjoy taking it out, setting it up, showing it off, and telling people about it. My collection is my show car, and a living history event is my car show. He said he never thought of it that we, but it made sense. I hit an are to which he could relate, and he left entertained and educated. That is what it is all about.
In the last post, I challenged living historians and reenactors to comment on why they do it and what they want to accomplish? That challenge stays. I also challenge those who are not living historians, but who attend living histories and reenactments, to tell why they go, what they learn, and what they'd like to see?
Comment,please. If they're on topic, I'll post them no matter the content!
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
...with trying to re-live history? The photos are from a small event I did with a few friends in Gettysburg this past weekend. It was a good event. We wanted to do something besides Civil War, so we did a small WWII presentation.
I brought along a large part of my collection, including some of my recently acquired British gear. I was going to wear the British uniform, but with temperatures nearing 100 degrees, and a heat index well over 100, I decided that a wool uniform that is even heavier than a CW uniform might not have been the best of ideas, so I went relatively comfortable in U.S. HBT's.
But, the question still resounds. Why the obsession? You see what I have, and add it to what the other guys brought along (we had a WWII .30 cal. machine gun, several M-1's, a BAR, and a guy with over 15 various WWII pistols, let alone all the gear). There are some museums that have less gear than what we had lying next to the sidewalk.
Yet, I still have a list several pages long of things I'd still like to buy. I have 4 US helmets, but I'd like another. I have an M-1, but I'd like another. I'd like more K-rations, and some C rations, etc. You get the point!
No matter how much I get, though, there will always be more I want, and everyone I know who does this feels the same way. Why?
I have 3 Civil War muskets, and 4 sets of accoutrements. I've got 4 CW uniforms, etc. There again, I'm not bragging, but you get it.
I'll never be a Civil War soldier, and I don't claim I will. I'll never know what it was like to be a WWII soldier. I've seen modern things and done things they've never done. Soldiers from all eras, though have experienced hardships, fear and loss on an unimagineable scale, and no matter who much gear we have, we won't be able to relate. So, what arewe trying to accomplish?
Are we satisfying our own curiosity? Arewe trying to see or feel or smell what they did? The uniforms are uncomfortable to a degree one can't imagine without actually wearing them. The weapons in operation are fantastic, but you might not understand unless you saw them in real-time.
It goes on and on. No one knows how many historic reenactors there are in the country, or the world. It is estimated that there are over 100,000 CW reenactors in the US alone, and that the number of WWII reenactors is approaching 25,000. WWII is the fastest growing segment of the reenacting world, so that may change very soon. Time will tell!
If you are a reenactor or a living historian, please comment on what you have, why you do it, and what you think of the hobby as a whole. I'll post them all, and we all look nforward to reading them.
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
I know that Pt. 3 was supposed to be the last part, but after some feedback I thought a Pt. 4 might be in order. Many thanks to Jim Coyle for asking the question that inspired this posting.
The question I overlooked : What do spectators think at events where there are Waffen SS reenactors present? The answer is a serious, "I'm not quite sure!"
I've seen different reactions, a few of which were kind of subtle, and a few that were vocal. Let's re-cap. Please note that any conclusions drawn are merely personal opinion.
I feel that spectators, just like other reenactors, look on the SS with a morbid curiousity. Morbid from the aspect of what the SS represents. Battlefield accomplishments aside, the SS represents death! Plain and simple! The SS administered the death camps, and the SS masterminded the death of some 11 million people. I think from the history aspect, people see the SS up close and personal and want to find out what they are all about? There is no admiration. There is no respect. Most people are familiar with the Holocaust, but may not be distinctly familiar with the SS and their part in it. Thus, it becomes educational to a point.
I overheard someone questioning an SS reenactor with, "Why would you want to do that or represent that?" The answer was that it is part of history, but at the same time, a direct answer was avoided. That in itself made me wonder why, and what was trying to be avoided? If you are so proud of what you do, why don't you defend your choice and stand up for what you believe in?
Sometimes, outright hostility comes out. I heard of (second-hand info., so make of it what you will) of a confrontation between someone who had relatives who died in the death camps and a group of SS reenactors. It got hostile to the point of law enforcement coming and the event ending.
Most times, though, they are just ignored, the idea being "Just because they are there, we don't have to even acknowledge them. Don't glorify them, Don't accept them. Maybe they'll get bored and go away." It never works, but the idea is there. They can do their thing, and tomorrow we'll all go home.
I've seeen the rituals and heard the oaths. They do happen! Supposedly it is all secret, but at reenactments after midnight, anti-Semetic rituals are sometimes performed, and oaths and indoctrination happen. Event organizers sometimes prohibit them from coming, but then the whole dicrimination issue comes into effect. The SS use the same freedoms and beliefs that those whom they represent despised, and they hope this will benefit their cause.
As can be expected, SS reenactors always get first-class invites to Aryan Nation events. They personify what these events are all about, so they are treated like VIP's. Since most SS reenactors share the beliefs of the event, they attend, but in an effort to divert attention, they rarely attend in uniform. They don't want to be perceived as extremists!
Hello? You are at a Neo-Nazi event, and you own uniforms and equipment that represent mass-murderers! How much more extremism do you need?
The best advice I can give is to stay away. Don't show interest. Don't cause confrontation. Let them believe what they want. Just like a radio station you find offensive or a tv show you don't like. Don't try to regulate them away, as that will only encourage a fight and draw attention (exactly what they want!). Just don't watch or listen to their programming agenda!
Thursday, July 15, 2010
...I've ever fought alongside. Co E of the 1st Kentucky Infantry, CSA. Seeing this picture brought back more than a few memories. It was probably taken 15yrs ago. My, how things have changed!
I got the Civil War bug in '94, and it has never gone away (I'm told it never will! I believe that!). I was in Nashville, having read the roadsigns of the various battlefields on the way there. I bought a Civil War magazine, and got interested. I then watched Gettysburg, and my life was changed forever! I bought the VHS Director's Cut (I paid $100 for the thing!), and when I watched "The Making Of" featurette, I was hooked!
"If these guys are reenactors, why can't I be? I can do that!" I thought. In a move that would have made Sarah Brady proud, I took one of my AR-15's one of my 2 Glocks, and an AK-47 clone I had at the time to a gun show and sold them. This was my "Civil War startup money". I then began reading the magazines and searching online. I was heavily involved in an online Civil War chatroom at the time, and it was frequented by several reenactors. they helped me find gear and gave a lot of advice.It also was how I started meeting me author-friends in the CW community. I learned of a major Civil War show coming up in Mansfield, OH, so I planned to go. (That was when I first met one of my friends in the Civil War community, Eric Wittenberg. We've come along way since that brief meeting!).
At the show, I bought some gear, and checked prices on what I would need to complete my "kit". Shortly afterward, I ordered a uniform and a musket from Old Sutler John. I was like a child on Christmas morning when a big package that I had to sign for came a few weeks later! I was an Armi-sport Enfield, and it was mine!
I wanted to go to the "Real Fury of Gettysburg" reenactment. I bought a dog tent, and some other camp items, and thought I was ready. Though I knew nary a soul who would be there, I figured I'd survive, learn some things, and possibly even enjoy it!
Guess what? I wasn't ready. I got into Gettysburg and registered early Friday afternoon. Since I knew no one there and didn't have a unit, I decided to make my pilgimmage to 'the Mecca'. I thought I had time to kill, so I went to town and also took a drive around the battlefield. Big mistake! While I was out, the rain began!
It rained, and rained, and rained some. "The Real Fury" soon became "The Real Mud of Gettysburg"! I returned to the reenactor parking lot, and my car swiftly and quickly sunk into the mud. I was there to stay for awhile. Not bad, but it was getting dark, and I had nothing in camp. I didn't even know where my particular camp would be. Who thinks that far ahead? I packed up what I needed for the night, and started walking with everyone else.
Two Confederate reenactors were walking into camp. One of them had a lantern, and I was using it to help find my way. The three of us got to talking. I told them my predicament, and they not only invited my to camp with them, but they had an extra tent (an A-frame, even!) that I could use, and unit I could fall in with! Talk about Southern hospitality, even on Northern soil!
As the weekend progressed, I learned A LOT! What I needed, what I didn't need, etc., how to march and fight in Napoleanic style, the manual of arms, etc. Most importantly, I made several good friends. I saw and fought with them many times over the years. Though I've been away and out of touch with them for a few years, I think about them all often. Everytime I pass the red barn on Pumping Station Rd, or even see it in the movie, I remember that weekend.
I had the chance to catch up with them at the reenactment this year, but too much was going on. I'm now sorry I did not! Have faith, 1st Kentucky! I'll march with y'all again soon! I'm planning a trek to Cedar Creek, so all is not lost!
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Joachim Peiper, a Waffen SS officer, was convicted of war crimes from the massacre of over 70 Allied POW's near the town of Malmedy in Belgium during the German Ardennes Offensive. He is in the picture. German troops at the annual "Battle of the Bulge" reenactment in Ft. Indiantown Gap, PA reenact Peiper's unit. These reenactors actually celebrate Adolph Hitler's birthday. They toast him, sing to him, and eat cake! Huh? I can hear it now. "Happy Birthday to you! Now go kill some Jews!" How is this even tolerated on a US military facility? You want to toast Der Fuhrer? Fine! On your own time and in private.
At a living history in Indiana a few years ago, there were Waffen SS reenactors present. Some rocket scientist decided it was a good idea to come in first person personna as Adolph Hitler! Yep! True story, and it gets better! When asked to leave, the SS reenactors in attendance threatened to leave also. They said it was not fair. They planned a ceremony in his honor, and were hoping he would review the troops. They were honored he was there, and they treated him like a god! They all were asked to leave!
I was at an event in Ohio a few years ago at an airport near Cleveland. An African-American family was there. They were newly immigrated from South Africa. The father made mention of Apartheid when he saw the German reenactor camp. One of the SS reenactors overheard him. The reenactor said that the only problem with Apartheid was that they stopped it too soon! Event security cautioned the reenactors that they were treading very close to ethnic intimidation and that they should watch what they say. Comments from the camps were, "So much for a free country!", and "I guess you pigs have never heard of the 1st Amendment!". All this while wearing the SS Death's head hat and the uniform of the Waffen SS! So much for freedom, indeed!
Lori and I went to Chantilly, VA this past weekend to a WWII living history on the Sully plantation. There were US, British, Russian, Canadian and German camps. Some of the gear was pretty good! There was a Kubelwagen, a large display of German weapons and equipment, and even a German halftrack. That is living history. To teach people firsthand what the Allies were up against. You could see Panzerfausts, and see their similarities to the modern RPG. You could see that the AK-47 truly was a derivative of the German MP-44, much like the American M-60 machine gun came from the German MG-42. It was interesting. I thought, "Here's a group of German reenactors doing it right! It was a good-sized encampment. Then, I noticed an officer with the SS lightning bolts on his collar, and a Totenkopf (Death's head) hat on his cot. It was hidden in plain sight, meaning he was keeping a low profile, but the hatred apparently was there!
Finally, Lori and I had a popcorn-selling and living history display set up by Battlefields and Beyond bookstore in Gettysburg in May. I had some US paratrooper gear set up. I got to talking with 2 groups of guys about reenacting. One guy said that the biggest problem he had was that there were still a lot of WWII vets alive, and he didn't think it was right to have German reenactors. The other group was from German lineage, and they said they reenacted basic German infantry because they had family members who were conscripted into the Wehrmacht. Though they weren't proud of what the leaders of their Fatherland had done, it was who they were! Excellent! Remember your heritage.
I said that almost all of the WWII veterans I talked to (and I've evn talked with Hermann Goering's personal cell guard from when he was in captivity) say they have no problem with the basic German soldier or reenactor. Their problem is with the SS, and they have no idea why someone would ever want to recreate that? All agreed with me.
As I talked with the German reenactors, they told me that even the average German reenactor hates SS renactors. "They're all a bunch of cultists and fanatics! Most of the regular Germans shoot at them too. We do! We just wish we could use real ammo!"
So, there you have it! With the stigma of Hitler, and the aura of hatred, why would anyone want to reenact one of the most hated military organizations in military history unless they themselves shared the same hatred? They use the disguise of history, but they truly I feel are using it for hate!
Comments? Please post them! Thanks!
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
So, on to the first WWII combat reenactment. What did we need again? Oh, that's right! Germans! No fun to fight amongst ourselves, or we wouldn't have left the Civil War, right?
What kind of Germans? There are several different units and affiliations reenacted. Before we get into it too far, let's discuss some of the types available. There might be the Fallschirmjager, or paratrooper. They were an elite unit, used moreso early in the war, but encountered in Normandy. To be a Fallschirmjager, one did not have to be a Nazi party member, though many were.
You also had the basic Heer soldat, quite often a conscripted soldier with no political motivation to fight the war, and who cared little about the outcome. The typical conscript wanted only to survive the war and to return to whatever was left of his home and family. Some of the older soldiers were WWI veterans, and wished to avoid the war but couldn't.
There were Panzergrenadiers, and other specialty soldiers with special uniforms and abilities. Some were Nazis filled with hatred, and some were not.
The most ominous members of the German army, though, were the Waffen SS. They were the fighting branch of the SS, the dreaded Schutz Staffel. The SS were those given the task of initiating and carrying out "The Final Solution" to "The Jewish Question". They set up and administered the Nazi death camps, and were ultimately responsible for the deaths of 11 million people. They were diehard Nazis and were eternally and faithfully devoted to Adolph Hitler. They were hated but feared by most of the German populace, though to say so openly would result in torture, death, or both.
There were more types of German fighters, and more branches of service, but these are the ones most represented in the reenacting world.
Wait a minute! There are Waffen SS reenactors? Really?
Sadly enough, it is true! I was shocked when I ran into them for the first time. They use the guise of, "Well, the SS were the elite troops. They had the better uniforms and equipment. They were the shock troops, much like the US Marines!"...excuse me! I don't think they were at all like the US Marines. For a citizen of the US to even say that is an insult to every Marine who wore the uniform, and every member of their families. My Dad is a marine, and always will be proud of that fact. He has nothing in common with an SS stormtrooper!
Ok, maybe in your family lineage, there were SS troopers. That is something you have no control over, and though you shouldn't really be proud of it, it is part of who you are. It doesn't need to be glorified! Maybe the reason you portray a German Fallschirmjager is because you admire all airborne forces and want tyo be different. I understand that. Maybe someone in your family (not necessarily even German) was conscripted into the Wehrmacht and forced to fight, and that is who you choose to represent. My father's side of the family was in Poland. I might have ancestors who made weapons for the German war machine, or who fought for the Wehrmacht.
Maybe you just want to recreate history. You want to represent the German conscript, the poor peasant given a uniform and a rifle, but given no choice in the matter. Totally fine, and I feel they should be represented in WWII battles and living histories. They are a part of history, and should not be whitewashed or erased.
But, anyone portraying a unit who wore the Death's Head insignia above, should not be remembered, praised, or in any way honored, as that is a symbol of fanatical extremism taken to the max! Yet, they're out there!
I've seen them, and simulatedly fought against them. I've wandered through their camps, looked at their gear, and memorized details of their uniforms so I'd know them if I ever met them again. There was no admiration or respect, however. It was more a feeling of dread or disgust!
Through this information gathering process, I've come to uncover the hidden, hatist, cultist agenda. They are merely Neo-Nazis in disguise, and many would like nothing more than to see Adolph Hitler emerge from the grave amd lead them to the domination the original SS failed to achieve. Some think they themselves could be the next incarnation of der Fuhrer!
How do I know this?...read Pt. 3!
Before we get too far into it, let's set things up a bit. I have been a Civil War reenactor for 16 yrs. now, and have seen a lot of changes during that time. I reenact Confederate, even though I was born in Pittsburgh, PA and lived most of my life about 50 miles north of the city. This was through no love of slavery, hatred of blacks, or any other such reasons. It merely was the side that most fascinated me. The uniforms were so different, the equipment was at times so lacking, and the manpower of the Southern armies often was not there, yet they almost surprised the World and won it all. Though their cause ended in the almost-total destruction of their country, they managed to keep their country alive for four years, and came very close to gaining the foreign recognition and intervention they needed. Much like the Colonials of the late 1700's, this outnumbered and outgunned bunch of "rebels" existed longer than and accomplished more than almost anyone thought possible. That is what intrigued me about the Southern soldier. Their was no "Lost Cause" mystique, no hatred, etc.
Now, of course, there are many people who see Confederate reenactors, and think we're all are merely anti-government and pro-slavery. They could not be more wrong! In my 16 years of reenacting, I attended such events as the 135th Antietam and Gettysburg reenactments, the so-called Mega-Events of the '90's. During these times, when several thousand reenactors of both sides from not only around the country, but from around the world, were drawn together for whatever personal reasons, I had the privilege and honor of talking with many like-minded people. Quite often, our conversations were similar to what we all can imagine that the conversations of the actual Civil War soldiers around the campfires must have been like.
At the 135th Gettysburg in 1998, we had reenactors from all 11 Confederate states around our campfires or in our camp, along with people from 7 Northern states and 4 foreign countries. We got to talking politics, weather, frustrations with currrent government, the economy, and so forth. Quite a bit of time was spent discussing the upcoming battle scenarios of the next day, or reviewing and re-fighting those of the day prior. Spirits and ales were shared, as were snacks. Some had brought instruments and were playing period music. With the sights, sounds, and smells in camp, it was a surreal sense of what at times it must have been like for the soldiers of both sides.
Through all the conversations, two subjects never came up. What were they? Hatred based on race and acceptance of or desire to preserve slavery. Slavery as a cause of the war was discussed. Frustration with big government was discussed ( though EVERYONE agreed that we were in the greatest country in the World, even the foreigners in attendance). The World politics and sentiment in the 1860's compared to current world politics were often discussed. But, the aspect of hatred was lacking. This was the case in every event, big or small, that I attended through the years. There are a lot of Northern Confederates and Southern Yankees, but no one I ever heard expressed tolerance of slavery or the desire of a victorious Southern Confederacy. While I'm not saying such types of folks do not exist (I'm sure they are out there), I've been to many events throughout the Eastern US, and I've never met any of them that I know of. All agreed that in the case of Confederate Independence, re-unification would have had to occur at some point, or neither country would have survived the World Wars.
Let's now fast-forward to the early 2000's. I picked up a new hobby. I had met some folks who were WWII reenactors at a nearby timeline event. They told me of a WWII vehicle museum nearby (that unfortunately no longer exists), and of the owner who allowed his vehicles to be used at events. If I had any interest, I could move into their era, and I could hang with them and work with them and get a chance to not only learn about the vehicles and see them in action, but to work with them, riding in the vehicles (not just Jeeps, but Halftracks and Sherman tanks) in parades, and living histories. So, I purchased WWII paratrooper gear (under the advice of and with help from my good friend Joe), and started to get involved.
I went to the museum, and read about the vehicles. I took pictures of them and began learning all I could about them. At events where the vehicles were being used, I'd try to arrive early and help with the setup. When the events were over, I'd stay late and help with cleaning up and securing the vehicles. I made new friends, and was starting to have experiences that few other people I knew had ever had. Have you ever heard an "Easy 8" Sherman tank with the radial engine run, or seen what is required merely in start-up of such a vehicle? Have you ever ridden in a halftrack, helped change the sparkplugs in a Sherman tank, helped change the battery in a Stuart tank, or even ridden in a Sherman tank?...Not to brag, but...I have! It was not only fun, but it was a tremendous learning experience! I now knew what things I had previously only read about or seen in movies felt like, sounded like, and more importantly, smelled like.
The next step was going to an actual battle reenactment and trying to simulate and re-create WWII combat. To do that, though, you need some other guys to help. What other guys? Germans, of course, and here is where the basis of this posting begins to become apparent!
Pt. 2 to come soon!
It's an interesting way to try to disguise it!