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Re-enactors Bring Past to Life
Warbirds Living History Group strives to educate AirVenture attendees with historical snapshots of WWII
By Glenn Moore
July 28, 2018 - Uniformed men carefully unravel an American flag. The soldiers stand at attention as the stars and stripes are pulled up the pole. A bugle sounds, filling the morning air with reveille. The uniforms, military tents, and authentic aluminum canteens re-create a snapshot of history in Miller Field by the Warbirds stands in the World War II Living History Encampment.
In this area, WWII re-enactors portray a variety of groups and individuals: members of the British Airborne, the Royal Canadian Airforce, soldiers of an American glider regiment, and, to keep morale high, USO performers.
Every day at 8 a.m. they hold a morning ceremony by raising the flag. The re-enactors are honoring veterans as well as the vehicles of past conflicts. During the ceremony, re-enactors read the names of deceased veterans aloud. Between each name they ring a bell in memorial.
Tim Utesch takes on the role of a sergeant in the 401st Glider Infantry Regiment. He has been to Oshkosh seven times and enjoys the tactile nature of the encampment, “You’re able to see, feel, smell history itself,” he said. Tim appreciates the era for how the country came together both at home and abroad. “There was a lot of selfless sacrifices…. WWII was an entire country at war,” Tim said.
The display site is constructed by the Warbirds Living History Group. When the group first formed, they displayed old pilot equipment. But now at every AirVenture, they re-create a living 1940s era camp. The site features tents for medical service, soldier quarters, as well as a USO “hen house” tent for entertainers. The group rises by bugle and eats in a functional chow hall.
“We try to preserve the authentic ways that people did things,” Angela Goessner said. Angela’s re-enactment role is a USO performer. The entertainers would lift the troop’s spirits, sometimes at their own peril. Transportation could be dangerous, Angela explained. “Twenty-eight USO entertainers died in the line of duty.”
Other factors that establish the encampment are period-accurate bicycles, an M3 half-track, several jeeps, and a Vietnam era Brutus gun truck. There have been expansions to the encampment, such as Vietnam displays, and most recently they added a Navy tent.
The re-enactors share a love for history. They research technologies of the past, the challenges people faced, and sometimes interview veterans. Re-enactor Shane Van Lynn finds value in the stories former serviceman have to share. “Sometimes when interviewing a veteran, family members hear entirely unheard-of accounts about what the veteran went through,” Shane said. “We’ve been thanked because we got a new story out of people’s parents.” The Warbirds Living History Group aims to add a human face to large world-changing conflicts such as WWII.
The re-enactors come from all over the country, but are primarily from the Midwest. They attend events around Chicago, Rockford, and Milwaukee. Information on the group can be found on its Facebook page. “We’d love new members. It’s great to carry on the history,” Tim said.