Why War Movies Mean More Than Just Thrills

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This past year has seen the release of quite a few war films, namely several movies based during World War II. Robert Zemeckis’s Allied, Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge, and Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk are among the most recent big blockbuster productions which all hit the silver screen to critical acclaim. Dark Knight and Inception director Nolan, received recent praise for its dramatic and realistic portrayal of the retreat from French beaches after the British Expeditionary Force were beaten back by Adolf Hitler’s army. He also obtained universal acclaim due to his stylistic non-linear structure of the story and dramatic, somewhat terrifying, battle scenes although it only received a PG-13 rating. Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge also met with critical acclaim for the presentation of a Medal of Honor winning conscientious objector Desmond Doss, famous for his acts as a medic during his war service. Finally, the fictitious Allied brought Brad Pitt out as a Royal Canadian Airforce intelligence officer amidst Axis-occupied Morocco, partnered with a female French Resistance fighter played by Marion Cotillard.

Instead of focusing on the films, their actors, and the directors in their respected places you could think of the real events. The events portrayed in Dunkirk occurred in the spring and early summer of 1940 in France. For a soldier to be in the British Army at that point in time he had to be at least 18-years-old and born in the year 1922 or earlier. Today that boy would be 95-years-old. I’m sure there are plenty of 95-year-old (and older) men (and women) still walking around, but there aren’t many. There certainly aren’t many World War II vets on the streets anymore. According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, we are losing approximately 372 veterans per day and only 620,000 of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II were alive in 2017. Sure 620,000 is a whole lot, but the VA also estimates by 2025 about 57,000 will be left and if that continues on the same slope, the last WWII vet could die as early as 2038. If you can grasp the terror of this, then you are one of the very little amount of people who have given it a thought that we will be alive to see the Greatest Generation die out.

As a history buff, to hear that any veteran of any war die is emotional for me, with a grandfather that has recently passed fight in the miserable Pacific during World War II, seeing these numbers on the page hit home. That’s why when I see these movies, I tend not to see them as Saving Private Ryan wannabe’s, but instead updated versions on what we can show newer generations about history. The more we keep the stories alive, the more history will not be forgotten. If you asked a regular teenager on the street about World War II, chances are he will know facts only in movies, TV, and videogames. If that is how history will be presented, then we need to keep churning these out to give more views on our history. Though we are inching towards the centennial of the final year of World War One, the last veterans of that war died about 7-years ago. The fact that we have history walking on our streets unnoticed at almost all times becomes a troubling thought for me personally. Kids who grow up and never very much care, let alone ask about what their grandparents did during the war is a slap in the face to those who aim to preserve their historical accomplishments.

With the film Dunkirk now awaiting home-media release, the next WWII blockbuster is up-for-grabs. A thousand stories erupt out of wartime, so fresh source material is abundant. With the dwindling amount of veterans and their depletion a looming reality, the time to bring their stories to the screen seem more important now than ever. That being said, every war should have updated films and media to further give our new and future generations a creative take on our veterans’ histories.

Playing Soldier: The Rise of World War II Reenacting

 

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Chapter 1: A Hobby, A Way of Life

You are inside of a boat moving over an unsteady ocean, the man in front of you shivers from the cold and tries to keep his balance along with the other 20 men in front of him while the boats motor drowns out any audible sound. Your helmet rattles back and forth on your skull as your weapon begins to make your arms sore. Your legs tire from standing in the craft for an hour or so and your 60 pounds of equipment begins to pull you down towards the sea below the boat. A plane passes over your head and it feels as though a freight train just paid you a visit. A series of snaps and cracks comes from in front of you as gunshots echo off the ocean and into your eardrums, the man behind you begins reciting the 23rd Psalm and you realize the Nazis occupying the French coastline have your boat directly in their sights.

With a sudden stop the boat ramp flips down and, like bulls erupting out of their pens, the men in the boat begin pouring out onto the beach. You do not stop running, because there are men behind you, in front of you, to your right and left, and everyone is depending on you to do your job. This is when the sand kicks up in your face, the gunshots become clearer and men have started to fall onto the sand without movement. You hold your rifle but you struggle to even lift it as the endless amount of straps and ammunition have restricted your movement. There is yelling, screaming, and cries for help all intermingled with the loud crashing of artillery and gunshots. The man beside you takes a hit and you cannot stop for him, and you stare up to see hundreds of German soldiers with their guns all seemingly pointing at you. You fall down, not feeling anything except adrenaline and the sand against your face. The crowd roars and they give you a standing ovation. You have just participated in the Invasion of Normandy as an American soldier, 70 years after it has taken place.

This is the world of World War II reenactments, an estimated group of 6,000 men and women throughout the United States who participate in recreating scenes of the war and its soldiers.[1] The objective is to help educate the public in what war was really like and show what the common soldier, both Allied and Axis, witnessed in battle, and to memorialize the veterans. Events depict famous battles from World War II, such as the Invasion of Normandy or the Battle of the Bulge. They draw reenactors from across the nation and world to perform, act, and look exactly as a person would during the era. To many this seems unusual, but to those who participate it becomes an addicting lifestyle that brings friends together for a weekend or two a month.

While Civil War reenactments are more known throughout the United States, World War II reenacting has become a bustling community of thousands with annual events. The community attracts firearm enthusiasts, historians, actors, thrill-seekers, hobbyists, and anyone interested in World War II. Most of the men and women attracted to the hobby do it to honor grandfathers, great-grandfathers, and veterans. For some it is a form of escapism, or a way to gain some understanding as to how it was during the time period. For others it could be just a weekend away from home with a few buddies shooting guns.

 

As the number of veterans dwindle, this hobby has succeeded in keeping fresh the memory of the war. This senior project aims at examining why it is a hobby, why people want to dress up in costume; why they pretend to be in combat, and why we recreate and revisit the past as a way to conserve memories.

Reenacting, while considered a hobby, is more of a way of life. Many reenactors have described a certain addiction to the act of gathering items and clothing from the era and then wearing it and performing in public. Reenactors portray specific military units and factions and use weapons, equipment, and vehicles of World War II while following military protocol and procedure: American, Russian, British, and German are soldiers are portrayed. The German reenactors often are looked at in disdain, as they parade in Nazi uniforms, speak German, and wear the infamous steel helmet that has become synonymous with Nazi Germany. These reenactors say it is all drama, and have no political ties to National Socialism or Adolf Hitler. Reenacting not only relives memories to honor, it relives memories to show the brutality, horror, and unmerciful side to war but also the aspect that war is not black and white and should not be depicted as such.

I am the grandson of a World War II veteran, a US Army soldier who fought in the Pacific against the Empire of Japan. He always told me stories of his time in the Pacific, the fierce fighting against enemies that were hidden behind dense jungle, and the illnesses carried by insects that he had contracted several times over. He sat me down countless times to relate how the war did not define him, nor did he regret it, but he felt lost and angry for no apparent reason. He found out later in life that this was because of the emotions he had to suppress in front of the men he commanded as a Platoon Sergeant serving under General Douglas MacArthur in the 2nd Engineer Special Brigade. His stories made me proud to have his blood pumping in my veins. Through his stories I gained a desire to learn more about the war, and history in general. I read, watched, and played everything I could that revolved around World War II, so much so that I taught my high school class a lecture on D-Day.

While researching World War II, I found a magazine which featured reenactors posing next to a living veteran. I had known about Civil War reenacting and I knew it was a hobby that people participated in, but I didn’t ever think modern wars were reenacted. I had tried to imagine how it could possibly work, Americans dressed as Nazis shooting at Americans with 70 year old guns? It seemed so strange yet so interesting. I discovered there were hundreds of web sites and online stores dedicated to this one hobby, explaining how to dress, how to march, where to buy clothes, where to buy dog tags, reproduction boots and hats, and everything in between. This hobby was huge and I discovered videos of reenactments. I wondered two things, why I had never seen any of this before and how do I sign up. I found myself wishing to get into the action and to understand why this hobby existed, and if it brought me any closer to the history I was raised to love.

There are many difficult reasons people choose to reenact, from living out scenes from their favorite movies, honoring their own or someone else’s relatives, or just having some fun in a new hobby. Some question why anyone would be a German soldier with the accompanying memories of the Holocaust and the horrors Germany had perpetrated in the war.

Some would argue that reenacting attracts many gun enthusiasts and could be perceived as glorifying war instead of honoring veterans and the past. While few people have spoken out against reenactments publicly, there have been many controversies revolving around those that choose to reenact the Axis forces. Such reenactors rebuff any complaints or concerns, saying it is just a part of history. They argue about the sanitization of history and without the Axis, there is no reenactment.

The hobby prides itself on its authenticity and often advertises this at many events throughout the United States. Many visitors are attracted to the idea of visiting a place with a full 1940’s experience complete with army soldiers in khaki uniforms and radios blasting the music of Glenn Miller’s Orchestra. Authenticity for reenactors is a different matter, however as for those representing soldiers and civilians bring authenticity down to the thread count of their jackets, the food that they eat in their rations, and the date of the stocks of their rifles. Competition between units occurs in regards to how the equipment and clothes were worn as well as the tactics they used. Some reenactors literally will dismiss another reenactor from an event for using non-authentic equipment or anything that surfaced after World War II. This adds to the culture of the hobby as being mysterious, strange, and quite serious.

There is also tension between Allied and Axis reenactors as some Allied personnel cannot relate to the reasons Axis reenactors dress as enemies of World War II. Some refuse to salute one another, while others may openly argue about and with Axis units. Many Allied and Axis reenactors will attempt to refute one another’s theories about World War II, including the equipment used, what unit participated in which battle, and who should have and would have won the war if not for a certain set of

circumstances. As a result of this, most units tend to keep to their own side and rarely mix their soldiers together, even in the off-hours. Yet, many reenactors will claim they share the same interests in history, tactics, stories, and military collectibles despite the difference in the soldier they reenact. Both Axis and Allied reenactors share the exceptional belief that the soldiers of the war, no matter what country they fought for must be honored despite the extenuating controversies surrounding their service.

The public’s view on reenacting varies but the general consensus among reenactors is that media coverage of the hobby is minuscule and public knowledge of the hobby almost non-existent. Some reenactors fear being labelled ‘nuts’, ‘militants’, or ‘prejudiced’. Many have found the sight of a Nazi soldier with his infamous helmet, his slate grey uniform, and black jackboots extremely unsettling. It may be even more unsettling to see the horrid double S rune insignia of the Schutzstaffel or SS and their Death’s Head symbol.

German reenactors face the problem of dealing with Nazi crimes against humanity. Jewish veterans and visitors in particular have voiced their concerns regarding anyone marching in a Nazi uniform and often have argued with reenactors over why it is even allowed, while anything pertaining to the political beliefs of Nazi Germany is in itself an offense that leads to a participant being banned from an event or unit. Despite the concerns, reenactors say they are portraying one side of the story, without which there would be no battle.

The people of this hobby, like many other hobbies, tend to stick with each other in small groups and often do not try to seek out media attention. This made getting information and history quite difficult to obtain so I decided to attend a reenactment.

This meant I would need to enlist in a unit that had seasoned reenactors devoted to authenticity and worked as a military unit. The most recommended event was the annual reenactment of the Invasion of Normandy, or D-Day, in Conneaut, Ohio, a small city along Lake Erie. The reenactment held thousands of spectators and nearly one thousand reenactors, along with American landing crafts, jeeps, tanks, and a German 88mm Flak gun which was used in battle in World War II.  The event also held dozens of World War II memorabilia vendors and period decorations such as a vintage style

Dairy Queen ice cream stand and period encampments of both the Allied and Axis.

The unit I would be attached to was the 29th Division Living History Group based in Maryland and Virginia, an organization dedicated to the 29th Infantry Division of the National Guard which led the assault on D-Day and sustained many casualties as the

Allied spearhead of the invasion. The men in the unit are mostly veterans of Vietnam, The Persian Gulf War, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and have had a long history of reenacting with their friends and family in the same unit. Though I was an outsider, I was treated like a fresh recruit in a seasoned U.S. platoon, which added to their reputation of being very authentic.

This story will contain interviews with reenactors who participate in reenactments. It will also draw on both seasoned and new reenactors. I also use histories of World War II to access the accuracy of the events. Through the paper, I hope the reader can gauge the importance and objective into the world of World War II reenactments.

Chapter Two: The History of Recreating History

Imagine being able to witness the Battle of Gettysburg, or speaking to a soldier in George Washington’s Army, or crossing swords with a Viking. A reenactment or living history is the simulation of people, events, places, or situations as they existed in some past time.”[2] Reenactors focus on the minute details of what the soldiers of the period were like, what they wore, ate, carried, and how they fought and felt.[3]

Reenacting scenes from the past is not however a new cultural activity as it has been around for generations. Performing a historical reenactment for theatric purposes was commonplace with roots in ancient times. The first use of reenactment as a public theatrical performance can be traced to ancient Rome, when the amphitheater served as a public venue. Roman leaders, including Julius Caesar, commissioned mythological dramas, reenactments of famous campaigns, and naval warfare scenarios, usually following a plot based upon history. The performance featured criminals and slaves who fought for their lives, often dying. Engineers were often used to make the staged battle more realistic and incorporated foliage, rocks, props, and at times even flooded the arena for mock naval battles.[4]

Tournaments and jousts in England during the Middle-Ages were also reenactments, featuring ancient battles and skirmishes.[5] England used battle reenactments to promote events such as Oliver Cromwell’s Roundheads, routing Royalist supporters during the English Civil war. Such a reenactment occurred at

Blackheath, South East London, in 1645, even as the war still raged on elsewhere.[6] English reenactments were also popular during the Gothic Revival in the early 19th century. The 13th Earl of Eglinton organized a medieval-themed jousting tournament for the public held at Eglinton Castle in Kilwinning, Scotland in 1835. The knights that participated donned medieval armor and followed a scenario much like a medieval-era joust would have. Crowds gathered in the thousands and reveled in experiencing history re-play out before their eyes.[7]

In the U.S., reenactments became popular as early as 1822 when American Revolutionary War veterans staged a reenactment of the Battle at Lexington on April 19th in the exact locations it first occurred.[8] On July 5th, 1902, a number of Wyoming National Guardsmen and Crow Indians reenacted Custer’s Last Stand at the Battle of

Little Bighorn nearly 70 miles away in Sheridan, Wyoming to a crowd of thousands.[9] American Civil War reenacting began before the war ended, as veterans returned to their families and often took them to battlefields and recreated their actions.[10] Both Union and the Confederate veterans recreated military life and donned their uniforms to educate the public.[11]

On July 1st-3rd in 1913, the fiftieth anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, more than 50,000 veterans both Union and Confederate gathered at the Gettysburg battle site to commemorate the brutal fighting. The event included period tents, firearms, and a recreation of the infamous Pickett’s Charge using the few living veterans of the futile infantry assault.[12] Despite fears that the veterans would not get along, all went smoothly, with mock raids and charges on enemy encampments.[13] The event was met with praise from veteran groups and was heavily advertised and covered by local and national newspapers. After this, living history encampments, as it became known, were prevalent amongst Civil War battle sites such as Manassas, Gettysburg, and Chancellorsville, especially around the time of an anniversary. These reenactments evolved and each year different events at different sites took place. Fewer veterans were alive to participate and were replaced with their sons and grandsons.

Interest in the Civil War increased as the centennial approached from 1961 to1965, reenactments, living history encampments, and public displays were set up around battlefield sites to educate and increase exposure to the Civil War. Interest in military collectibles also increased following the centenary. During the 1970s and early 1980s, Civil War reenactments became more organized with even more reenactors and spectators. In 1986, a reenactment at the Manassas battlefield during the 125th anniversary of the First Battle of Bull Run included more than 5,000 re-enactors.[14]

Reenacting other wars also became popular including The French and Indian War, the American Revolution, World War I, and World War II.[15] Reenacting World War II started in the 1970s when historical groups such as the World War II Historical Society were founded in the United States and the United Kingdom.[16] These groups mainly portrayed German armed forces such as the Schutzstaffel or SS which was Nazi Germany’s powerful political driven army.[17] These groups attracted like-minded people, who collected Nazi war relics such as original uniforms, and firearms.

While World War II reenacting is smaller than that of the Civil War, it constantly expands in popularity. Movies such as “The Dirty Dozen” (1967), “The Longest Day” (1962), and “The Big Red One” (1980) stirred interests in the hobby. Reproduction clothing and equipment also became popular.[18] Museums across the country, such as the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum’s “World War II Weekend” at Reading Regional Airport in Reading, PA, also became included. In the late 1970s, military vehicle preservation clubs and reenacting hobbyists started hosting living history exhibits which would have collectors and reenactors conduct games and battles in wide open land.

In 1975, the first World War II reenacting organization was founded, the World War II Historical Reenactment Society. In one year gained 400 members. By the early and mid-1990s, reenacting expanded to over a 1,000 as men and women joined the ranks of reenactors across the United States.[19] World War II movies such as “Schindler’s List” (1993), “Saving Private Ryan” (1998), and “The Thin Red Line” (1998) helped attract more people interested in the hobby, including people serving as extras for filming.[20] “Band of Brothers”, an HBO television mini-series depicting a company of United States Army paratroopers during World War II, resulted in a huge surge of interest in reenacting. Fans of the show began to search online for groups that portrayed the famous World War II company in reenactments, leading to an increase to the community as people wanted to act out their favorite scenes.[21][22] World War |I reenactors who wanted to create their own shores of Normandy, Siegfried Line, and streets of Stalingrad did so with their groups across the nation. The last decade saw television shows such as the HBO’s mini-series “The Pacific” (2010), movies like “Inglorious Basterds” (2009), “Valkyrie” (2008), and “Downfall” (2004) that brought more interest into World War II and therefore more interest in reenacting and researching the conflict.

Reenacting World War II however, also has its problems due to the Axis reenactors and their portrayals of controversial military units. Richard Iott a 2010 United States Republican Representative nominee for Ohio’s 9th district belonged to a German SS reenacting group portraying the 5th SS Panzer “Wiking” Division that fought on the Eastern Front. He was criticized for this in the national media. Iott denied any sympathies with these ideas and claimed his portrayal of a Nazi soldier was “purely historical interest in World War II.”[23] Though this is one specific and publicized case, SS reenactors are prevalent in reenacting and face problems such as these.[24]

Reenactments include Allies storming positions, abstaining some casualties, charging the Axis force, and capturing the positions and the enemy without incident. Participants do not want events that are too scripted and organized, instead they prefer to focus on what the soldier wore, ate, and carried, their thoughts on politics, who they wrote to, and where they came from.[25] Many reenactors imagine intricate backstories for their impressions and try to act this out as authentic as possible.

World War II reenacting draws people to small towns in the Mid-Atlantic and North-Eastern regions such as Pennsylvania, New York, and Ohio. They occur in public parks and privately owned areas, and can bring in crowds of a few hundred to a few thousand.[26] To reenactors, reenacting isn’t just dressing up and acting out a part but being an actual soldier of the era would appear without portraying themselves as actual soldiers. While this may be confusing, reenactors often learn to flip a switch which during mock battles or presentations will appear, act, and talk as if they were of the era but while interacting with the public they are reenactors and not military personnel and are often instructed to conduct themselves in this manner.[27] They can also become their relatives or someone other than themselves, charging an enemy emplacement or dying in a haze of bullets without actually suffering the consequences of those realities and having fun while doing so.[28]

Chapter 3: Prelude to the Invasion

Operation Overlord or D-Day as it became popularly known, was a large-scale military operation devised to invade Nazi occupied France and buildup Allied forces to ultimately liberate Western Europe.[29] It was meant to begin the assault into Europe that would push into Germany and eliminate the Nazi threat from the world.[30] The operation was a combined effort by the Allied forces, this included American, British, Canadian, French, Polish, and many other allied countries, the primary objective was to establish and secure a foothold on the Continent.[31] Nazi forces had heavily fortified the French coastline under direct orders of Adolf Hitler, and in doing so created Hitler’s Fortress Europe. This was to be an impenetrable line of coastal defenses, designed for the sole purpose of repelling the inevitable invasion of France. A solid fortified line on the whole French coast could not be realistically created, so the Germans fortified the areas that could be used as targets. These were areas closest to the shores of Britain on the other side of the English Channel, more specifically the Pas-De-Calais area as it was where the English Channel was narrowest and formed a straight line between London, England and the Rhine-Ruhr region thus creating a direct route into Berlin.[32]   The Allied forces, under the leadership of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, needed complex research and planning into when, where, and how they were to conduct a successful operation to get through the Atlantic Wall and lock in their foothold on French soil. By 1943, the invasion of France was already in planning by Allied leaders.[33] Although the Allies had conducted three successful amphibious invasions by 1944, they became anything but confident and made sure that their operation was to be so meticulously planned that they would even devise a fake army to throw off German intelligence operatives.[34] The Allied command designed the operation to hit the Normandy Coastline, and put assault troops (mostly men who had never seen combat) head-first into prepared defense positions, where many casualties were to be expected.

One of the American divisions selected to be the first to penetrate the Atlantic Wall of France, was the inexperienced 29th Infantry Division, a National Guard unit based out of Maryland and Virginia. It is a historical unit that took took its roots in the Civil War, when men of these two states signed up for both Union and Confederate forces. This led to the division being created in 1917 during World War One, where they were given their divisional insignia of a Blue and Gray circle divided in an S-shape down the middle, resembling the men who fought for both the North and South.[35] By the time of the Invasion of Normandy, the division had not seen combat, unlike the veteran 1st Infantry Division that were to be also taking part in the invasion. The 1st Infantry Division fought in North Africa, Sicily, and Italy before going to England to train for the invasion, joining the 29th in the process. The men of the 29th were mostly farm boys from the South, some had been drafted after 1940 during the first peacetime draft in U.S. history, some joined before the war started with their friends for money during the depression and the sharp uniforms, and some joined up soon after Pearl Harbor.[36] All had been thrusted into the same position at the tip of the spear of one of the biggest military operations of history. The outlook for those landing first was anything but good. High command told the leaders of the first wave of assault troops to expect nine out of ten men to be casualties.[37] For those who reenact the 29th, this fact is not overlooked and causes every reenactor bearing the same blue and gray patch to think about every “29er” who didn’t even make it off their landing crafts.

The approach to Conneaut Township Park was damp and muddy. Dawn had not yet materialized and the air was chilly with a hint of autumn. The crashing of the waves of Lake Erie echoed throughout the park as the sun slowly came up over the little Ohio city. Conneaut is a quiet community of 12,000 residents within Ashtabula County at the Northeastern-most tip of the state of Ohio, known as “Ohio’s Sharpest Corner”. Lake Erie provides scenic views for the town and makes it a popular summer destination with its beach front property, fishing boats, and tourist traps. It is a town full of cookie-cutter houses, American flag lawn decor, and farm animal-shaped mailboxes. It is something of a shock when 1,236 World War II reenactors descend on this town during the end of August, when Conneaut is transformed into Normandy, France in the summer of 1944.

D-Day Conneaut recreates the amphibious and airborne invasion of France on June 6th, 1944, better known as D-Day. The event itself has been taking place annually in Conneaut since 1999. What started initially as a small group of reenactors running up the beach attempting to relive the day that the Allies breached Nazi occupied France, turned into a yearly event that has attracted more than 1,000 reenactors and 3,000 spectators. The streets fills original and reproduction WWII vehicles, including an original B-25J Mitchell Bomber colloquially named ‘Georgie’s Gal’, which flies over the beach and park throughout the weekend and during the reenactment. The coordinators originally had no plans to expand their living history event, but the 250 yard beach that somewhat resembles the 50-mile target area of the amphibious landings that is the Normandy coastline, was an ideal location to host a non-profit event for reenactors to educate spectators, give them a show, and have fun all in the process. Even though the event garners 3,000 spectators and more than 1,000 reenactors, the organization behind D-Day Ohio does not collect any fees and operates solely on donations and volunteers.

Event coordinators say their goal is to honor both Axis and Allied veterans, living and dead. Their admiration for all veterans has led them to recently invite local veterans to the event to make speeches, get free food and entertainment, and hear accolades from a grateful public. Most, however, take their honors lightly, and always state that the real heroes were those who are buried, those who did not come back from France, and those who could not make it to Conneaut.

For reenactors, the reasons for participating is the same. They want to mark D-Day and ensure ones remember it and the story of sacrifice. This can be seen throughout the dozens of olive-drab tents that lattice the park, the 1942 dated American flag draped over the Willy’s jeep, and the chatter of reenactors sharing their thoughts on D-Day. Though many have served in Vietnam, both Iraq wars, and Afghanistan, they hold a special place in their heart for those who stormed the beaches of Normandy or had any part in World War II for that matter.

On the park grounds at Conneaut, a terrible ringing could be heard from the camp section on the right. It seemed to be a wake-up call, groans and sighs could be heard from every tent down the line as the sun rose over the park, the smell of spilt German beer was unmistakable amidst the scent of mud. The main entrance to the park was devoted to the Allied reenactors and represented pre-invasion England. The Canadian and British contingent camped at the far right of the park, their allegiances made clear by the mustard colored conical tents adorned with Union Jack flags. In the middle of the field were dozens of dark green pyramidal tents carefully placed in perfect rows, somewhat resembling a suburban neighborhood. These green tents held the United States troops, mostly of the 1st and 29th Divisions, living history groups that reenact the two United States Army divisions that were the spearhead of the American expeditionary force that struck France first. These units trained vigorously in England for two years before participating in Operation Overlord.[38] Although the men of these units had arduously worked mentally and physically to partake in the Invasion of France, many did not even make it onto the beach of the country they were ordered to infiltrate.
In one of the many olive-drab tents in “England”, a man came out of his cot cursing under his breath. Major Timothy O’Neill, the 72 year old commander of the 29th Infantry Division Living History Group of Alexandria, VA strutted up and down the company street, periodically stomping his russet brown leather service shoes on the cold muddy ground to keep his feet warm.His unit had not woken up yet, and most were ignoring the Canadian reveille by rolling over into their sleeping bags. He was already dressed in his mustard wool uniform embellished with golden oak leaf pins on his collars, his olive-drab side cap referred to as a ‘garrison cap’ lay atop his snow-white hair. A deep southern drawl ordered his men to awake immediately as his piercing blue eyes searched for anyone still asleep.

O’Neill served in Vietnam for two years as the commanding officer of an armored regiment, then served during Operation Desert Storm. He also taught engineering psychology at West Point from 1976 until 1991 when he retired, though he still serves as a consultant to the Academy. He has been labeled the ‘Father of Digital Camouflage’ and is partly responsible for the strange digital patterns seen in military use today. He has also written fictional and analytical literature, one of his famed works being “The Individuated Hobbit: Jung, Tolkien, and the Archetypes of Middle-earth”.[39] Though his many accomplishments are abundant, he appears as just another intimidating yet humorous veteran reenactor.[40]

As he stepped into several tents, O’Neill became irritated when he found 1st Lt. Paul Veneziano, the 52 year old second-in-command of the 29th Infantry Division Living History Group from Arlington, VA. Veneziano was still fast asleep, and as O’Neill began to try to wake him he moaned. Veneziano was also in the Army like O’Neill, though he did not serve during Vietnam. Serving in the National Guard in Europe, he chose the Army as his career, rising to Chief of the United States Central Command’s International Affairs Division of the National Guard Bureau. He later became Management Analysis for the Army National Guard’s Mobilization and Readiness Division. Veneziano is a veteran reenactor of 31 years, starting out in Civil War and branched out in the late 1990s to United States World War II. Similar to O’Neill, he studied military history extensively and became quite familiar with the United States Army and their operations during the war.

Veneziano exited slowly from his tent while yawning. His short physical frame differed from most of the tall middle-aged men, and his soft voice was in keeping with his round wireframe glasses. He seemed less of a military man and more of an office worker, but as he began to notice the men were not moving quickly he barked orders in a way that could not be mistaken as friendly. As the men gathered around, most only dressed in green tank tops, wool trousers, and service shoes, coffee began to be served as Veneziano and O’Neill walked past the tents and into the open field toward the hill that overlooked the beach. The sun had now come up over Conneaut, revealing the enormous anti-tank and anti-aircraft German 88mm gun that was actually used in World War II. They both admired the whole scene, and as they looked down on the beach that was already decorated with tank traps, wooden poles, bunkers, and other obstacles designed to impede the Allied advances, they began to wonder if the Axis command were doing the same.

Across from the Allied reenactor’s camp was a basketball court and a hill that led down to a creek. Next to the creek were dark orange tents furnished with wooden stools and desks, some with German beer bottles and pictures. Displays were set up for the public showing German army equipment between the years 1939-1944, paying specific attention to the weapons, sharp uniforms, and precise equipment sets. Parked across the street were several vintage BMW R75 motorcycles with sidecars and mounted Nazi MG42 machine guns, several German Opel Blitz trucks, a Panzer II light tank, and various cars, all from World War II. It had seemed that the Germans brought more vehicles than they did soldiers, though this was not nearly the case. The German side of the park was labeled “Occupied France” and also held the French Resistance, which had much smaller numbers compared to all other reenactors, they included female fighters, and civilians wearing large French berets. Throughout the day they would be attacking German positions along the road which had an authentic German guardhouse, always containing a German soldier on guard for partisan operations.

Down the road on the edge of the beach, the German soldiers in their white tank tops and grey field caps dug defenses on the left side of the beach. A lone German soldier rode his bike to the top of the hill across from the Allied encampment where he parked and also admired the view next to Veneziano and O’Neill. The German asked about whether or not the treacherous 88mm gun would sound as horrifying as it looked, without a moment’s pause Veneziano answered.

“I bet she does…”[41]

In the 29th Infantry Division’s, 116th Regiment’s cantonment, Pvt. John Rainey, a 46 year old newly inducted reenactor, began to shave. Military regulations in World War II and today state that faces shall be clean of facial hair unless they want a mustache within regulation. Rainey, a web developer from Baltimore, Maryland, served in the  29th Infantry Division during Operation Desert Storm and has a deep fascination with military history and the 29th Division. With him was Sgt. Nathan Frankoff, a 24 year old graphic design student from Annapolis, Maryland, who has been reenacting for several years. They both began to laugh lightly as they marched towards the shaving stations, vintage safety razors and cream in hands.

“I don’t do this for the crowd, the officers, or anyone else. I do it for the veterans and my friends,” Frankoff said defiantly. “I just think its cool, its just like being in a military unit again,” Rainey said as he walked out of his tent.[42]

The men of the 29th Infantry Division Living History Group (IDLHG) have been with each other for several years, Some helped to found the organization and have known one another for decades. The 29th prides itself on authenticity, every detail emphasizes this and makes a point of being as brotherly and welcoming as possible. This, combined with most of the men having deep ties in the 29th Infantry Division, led to the 29th IDLHG being one of the best and most trusted reenacting units on the East Coast.

While most other units tend to portray elite outfits such as special forces, paratroopers, and ranger units, when they are usually overweight, too old, and not able to appear as actual combat soldiers, the men of the 29th portray a unit that had no say in whether they were going to war or not, and were somehow put first in line. The real 29th Infantry Division left England for the beaches of Normandy, most not knowing their exact target until a day or two beforehand.[43] The beaches at the Normandy coast were divided into sectors, all with codenames: Gold, Juno, Sword, Utah, and Omaha.[44] These were sub-divided into different sectors and assigned to different divisions. The British and Canadian units were to land on the left of the Americans at Gold, Juno and Sword beaches. The Americans were to land at Omaha and Utah.[45] Company A of the 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Division, which was the unit reenacted by the 29th IDLHG, was to assault “Dog Green” sector while the rest of the division landed to its left flank, as well as the 1st Infantry Division.

Dog Green sector, which was famously shown in the movie “Saving Private Ryan”, was set-up for a massacre. German firing positions criss-crossed the beach, this including machine guns, anti-tank guns, mortars, and rifle fire from trenches.[46] The trenches led to underground living quarters which contained three battalions of heavily armed German soldiers of the 352nd Division. The water leading onto the beach was heavily mined and held many underwater obstacles to impale landing craft and make American boats dead targets.[47] The beach itself was a 300-400 meter flat surface, leading to cliff-like bluffs looking directly down onto the shore, the beach was already diagramed and laid out so firing onto targets would be done quickly and lethally. A fullfrontal assault was going to be extremely costly but unfortunately had to be done.[48]

Company A of the 116th Regiment had the task of taking Dog Green and subsequently taking the exit to the beach to allow supplies and vehicles to be brought into the area. Even before boarding the landing crafts for the beach, men were seasick and tired due to not being able to sleep from excitement and fear. On the landing crafts, the soldiers were bogged down by equipment that weighed 60 pounds, which felt like much more when soaking wet.[49] Most were abhorrently seasick and could not bear to move as they were also exhausted from standing for several hours in the boats.[50] The operation already had seemingly taken a turn for the worse for the 29th.

As the day began to get started, the residents of Conneaut began to flow into the park in large droves, most aware of the weekends entertainment. The crowd was packed with families, young children, and local veterans, taking pictures, asking questions, and saluting reenactors. Glenn Miller, Johnny Mercer, and the Andrews Sisters blared on a loudspeaker as a German on a motorcycle began to show off for the crowds. The British and Canadians marched in precise forms, their hobnail boots click-clacking on the pavement. Their American counterparts paced around the camps, often with what appeared to be confidence. Across the scene, some asked why they would do this, why would they bear the heat in wool uniforms underneath equipment and toting heavy rifles. Most stammered and stiffened up as if they were afraid of the question, but several 29th reenactors, including Sgt. Frankoff, stated it as simple as it could be. “I love it, and I do it for the vets.”

 

Chapter 4: Storming the Beach

As Conneaut filled with spectators, Allied and Axis reenactors suited up for drills for the beach landing. Most strapped on their heavy equipment one piece at a time, then slung their rifles across their shoulders followed by their extra equipment. For some that consisted of heavy replica flamethrowers, 80 millimeter mortars, M1A1 Bazooka rocket launchers, and blank .30 caliber machine guns. All proved to be hard to carry while running. Tony Dietz, a 53-year old reenactor from Westminster, Maryland carried a pole charge, which consisted of a replica pack of dynamite affixed to an 8 foot pole which enabled its user to be able to prop up an explosive charge next to a bunker wall from a distance and blow an opening into an enemy defensive position.[51] Dietz was a tall, plump man with a radiant smile and a welcoming attitude, but his smile quickly disappeared when he was ordered to carry the awkward pole charge which could also give the carrier splinters if he did not wear gloves.

“This thing is so weird to carry, and it’s heavy too,” he said as he struggled to balance it in his hand. “I have to carry this, when most of these kids are my sons age.”[52]

While the 29th suited up for a full equipment drill, several men quickly stood at attention for a woman in uniform who walked past at a fast pace. Wearing a Women’s Army Corps uniform she shouted orders into her walkie-talkie and saluted those who acknowledged her presence. Betsy Bashore is a 42-year old from Maumee, Ohio, and has reenacted more than 25 years, she walked towards Timothy O’Neil and saluted him as he looked on the field at his cadre of reenactors in full battle formation. Bashore is the Chief Executive Officer of D-Day Ohio, and has been working for the event since 2008. Although she mainly reenacts at 19th-century themed events, she also dresses as a Women’s Army Corps captain and a Signal Corps photographer. She can often be spotted at an event directing others and taking shots of fellow reenactors who have enjoyed her company for over two decades.

“I came into D-Day Ohio in 2006 as the Chair of Treasurer and we were in $12,000 in debt. That year we had 800 reenactors and 500 public spectators. Six years later, we have 1,236 reenactors and 3,000 public spectators with a $100,000 budget from private donors and onsite sales, “ she said proudly.[53]

“This is the 4th generation of managers of this event as the last three have been replaced. We work as a board of 11 members and make decisions based on votes. We also consist of 100 volunteers who make this event so great, and its crazy how this all started with just a small group of people and is now a hundred or so of us.,” she added.

Bashore’s interest in reenacting started in her teens when she was working for historic sites. She always loved history, and liked the idea of managing reenactments. She became a member of the D-Day Ohio staff in 2006, when she began to volunteer for the event and actively participate.

“This last event we held 143 veterans, and every year I think to myself that there will be no veterans coming due to their age. They prove me wrong each and every year and somehow every year more veterans attend than the last,” she said.

Like most reenactors, Bashore says she is motivated by the veterans of all wars. While she worries about events going as planned, her primary concern is for veterans. She usually can be spotted at the veterans tent, talking to veterans about their military service during World War II. Despite the dwindling number of World War II veterans, at least more than hundred appear at D-Day Ohio each year, and some are even recognized for their service.

Arden Earll, a veteran of not only World War II but of D-Day itself, has been attending Conneaut for years. His 89 year old frame seemed fragile, but he was guarded by several U.S. reenactors who acted as his protectors wherever he went. His participation and attendance has motivated reenactors to put on their most authentic performances and be vigilant about the devastation of June 6th, 1944. Drafted in 1943 shortly after his high school graduation in Eerie, Pennsylvania, Earll was put into H Company, 116th Infantry Regiment, of the 29th Division, the first to step into France as the tip of the invading Allied force. Part of the force that was decimated on Omaha Beach, he survived the day with a gunshot wound to his arm and received the Bronze Star medal for his actions.[54] On the 65th anniversary of D-Day he was honored by President Barack Obama and other world leaders in France, where he had once fought for freedom.

“I was on D-Day, stormed the beach and took my wound from a sniper through my elbow and the bullet came out of my fingers,” he said as he tried to speak over constant noise.[55]

“My squad leader was shot and killed right in front of me in the water as we left the landing craft.” he added.

Though he had been coming to this event for years, 2014 was especially important as he was being awarded the French Legion of Honor for his service in Normandy, France. He was proudly displayed his 29th Infantry Division hat, belt buckle, and ID card. He watched the 29’er’s put on bandoleers full of ammunition, slung rifles over shoulders, and strapped on inflatable life vests similar to the ones he wore as he waded through the English Channel onto the shores of Omaha Beach. He seemed exuberant and extremely cheerful as his wife lingered nearby.

“I love it, it’s an amazing sight to see,” he said while staring at the 29th Division soldiers.

“I plan on being here,” he said after being asked whether he would attend the following year.

“We’ll see about that,” his wife said.

Along with Earll, another veteran of the French Resistance who helped with the Normandy campaign attended Conneaut was floating around the camps, putting on a noticeable scowl when he passed by several Nazi reenactors. The French Resistance was an enormous help to the Allied Expeditionary Force and was critical in providing intelligence that led to D-Day,[56] as well as participating in heavy fighting in the area. French Resistance reenactors were slated to help in the attack at “Foucarville Bridge,” a medium sized foot bridge that connected the Allied and Axis encampments. Though this battle featured heavy fighting between German and Allied forces, including reenactors portraying the famed 82nd and 101st U.S. Airborne divisions, the battle was hardly the main event. Two battles for the fictitious French town of “Foucarville” were reenacted over the two days, representing the harsh fighting in the Normandy countryside between American paratroopers and German forces.[57] Smaller battles between the French Resistance and the Nazi occupying force were also enacted the day before the beach landing.
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Despite the large crowds drawn into the fighting centering around the bridge, many spectators surrounded the 29th Infantry Division as they paraded across the main field. Toting rifles and equipment, they fanned out as if under fire from German MG-42 machine guns and mortar fire. As they continued with their demonstration the silent M1 Sherman tank sitting at the edge of the green field erupted with a spine-shattering explosion which was then repeated every few hours to keep the crowd on their feet. The tank had shot a blank shell as it had before, but this unannounced explosion seemed to rattle several 29th leaders, one of whom was Lt. Dave Ostrander, a 53 year old Army veteran of Desert Storm who was standing on the side of the group observing his squad. Easy to spot with a greying mustache and bald head, he stood apart from other 29th leaders as he had a booming voice that often yelled commands above all during exercises. Although he was working full time as a Senior Military Operations Analyst at an organization that worked with the government, he found much pleasure in reenacting and has done so since the early 2000’s. However as the tank fired from its large cannon, he seemed less than pleased as he ducked onto the floor.

“You having flashbacks of Kuwait there, Ostrander?” Sgt. Frankoff quipped.

“Kuwait! Iraqis!” Ostrander yelled jokingly.

As Ostrander walked to the other side of the field, Frankoff began to huddle his squad around the sand table which held a diorama of the beach at Conneaut. The objectives clearly marked and the reenactors represented by plastic green army men. Sgt. Frankoff’s squad was designated as the demolition team armed with pole charges and packs of dynamite, and were assigned to attack and take out the large

“We have three sections of the beach; Larry, Curly, and Moe,” Frankoff said pointing to each designated area.

“Where do we land?” asked John Rainey.

“We don’t know yet, but definitely on the Eastern side of the beach. Most likely intertwined with the Canadian and British landings to the right of us.” Frankoff replied.

“Well that’s authentic.” Rainey said alluding to the fact that Omaha Beach and the

British-Canadian beaches were nearly 19 miles apart rather than a few dozen yards.

While Frankoff’s squad anxiously discussed details of the landings, the Axis forces were still digging in on their positions, loading their weapons, and aiming their gun sights onto the beach. The giant German artillery gun directly zeroed on the 29th’s landing zone, where many reenactors would meet their “fate.” A bunker also lay close to the grass that covered the water line, shielding the reenactors unloading off of the landing crafts. Several German’s carried the deadly MG-42 machine gun which plagued and haunted every American veteran of the European Theatre of Operation, most likening the sound of the gun to a continuous tearing sound.[58] German reenactors began to settle into trenches and bunkers, and took cover behind sandbag emplacements as the Allied troops started to finally put on their equipment one last time.

Both Allied and Axis were growing anxious about their performance for the crowd. A whistle sounded across the camps as line after line of American and British reenactors filed onto the main field. Most adjusted their 70 year old lifebelts which would have prevented the soldier from drowning, but were now useless as they were only antiques and worn as an accessory to the uniform. Many sipped from their metal canteens to prevent dehydration, a real danger for reenactors in the heat. Lt. Ostrander strutted towards his boat team, which consisted of nearly 20 men, and had his second in command take a picture of the first to land on the beach.

Before beginning their descent towards the section of the beach that the boats were moored, Lt. Paul Veneziano gathered all the 29’er’s into formation. Most expected a dramatic prepared speech or a toast to the operation; instead, he delivered a solemn dedication to a young fallen soldier. John Wayne Durnell, a 17 year old from Ellwood City, PA was a part of the 29th Division Living History Group from August of 2013 until July 16th, 2014 when he died. His father, Greg Durnell, still participated in the reenactment and was present for this D-Day Ohio, despite the fact his son had died only a month prior. Lt. Veneziano called the company at attention while he explained how close the company is and how he would always see them as family no matter what.

Greg Durnell began to openly sob as his son’s name had been read aloud.

“Private John Wayne Durnell lost his life last month, and although most of you had not gotten the chance to get to know him, he was a great kid and deeply loved the organization,” Veneziano said.

“This company acts as not just a family, but a military unit dependable on each other, and when we lose one of our own we all feel it.” he continued.

At this point he called Greg Durnell to come at attention in front of the whole company to receive a gift from the whole division. The men in the company had raised money to purchase a shadowbox containing materials relating to Private John Durnell’s posthumous promotion to Private First Class, an American flag, and a certificate stating he died in the heat of battle outside of Saint-Lô, France on July 16th, 1944.[59] Veneziano then saluted Durnell and dismissed the company. Afterwards, each member came by to pay their respects to Greg Durnell while he admired his son’s promotion to a rank higher than his own.

The company mustered on the parade ground, under a considerable amount of weight from their equipment and sweaty from the summer sun. They stood at attention and in sections according to their landing times, Ostrander, Frankoff, and Rainey were all in the same line, while Veneziano and O’Neill were ahead of them in order to direct the company while they landed. The 29th began to march down the steep road while singing “The Jody Cadence Song”, a popular military marching song , veterans seemed to nod their heads to the rhythm while taking pictures on their phones. Several children marched along and saluted the passing reenactors as if they were actually soldiers marching into battle. The crowd of more than a thousand now gathered on the bluffs above the German positions, with veterans sitting in reserved front row seats on beach chairs.

One veteran followed the 29th down towards the beach shouting something as loud as he could. It was Arden Earll, a veteran of the 29th and of D-Day, shouting the division’s motto, the number of the division (29) followed by “Let’s Go” .The slogan of the 29th, which was created in World War II, still survives to this day.[60]

“29!” he said.

“LET’S GO!” shouted every member of the company.

This chant was repeated as the reenactors marched down the street, through a field, and onto the sands where it became hard to keep their balance. At this time, most lit unfiltered Camel cigarettes and stood in circles taking pictures of each other and going over orders. The older reenactors mostly kept their cool, while the new ones sweated under their new equipment and the rising temperature.

“Just follow me and watch where I go,” Frankoff said to Rainey.

“Do you have another cigarette?” Rainey replied.

The reenactors began boarding their designated landing crafts and amphibious trucks in pre-existing formations with their rifles still slung on their shoulders and special equipment at the ready. Historically, the assault troops landing on Omaha Beach, which included the 29th Division, landed in disarray and under heavy fire. Almost all of the boats drifted off-course and landed the troops in different sections causing confusion, and although the beaches on Conneaut were smaller and not being actually fired upon, the men still seemed confused.[61] The boats launched and made the reenactors shift forward suddenly, some falling on top of each other. As the boats circled, an Allied airplane circled overhead and “strafed” the German emplacements on the beach; their blank shots were too distant to be heard by the reenactors on the boats, who were giving each other V for Victory signs across the water. Some laughed and joked while the 29th began to circle in the lake for the last time.

“Hey Nate, imagine if the boat capsized out here?” said Tony Dietz

“Don’t even say that, we would all go down.” he replied just as a wave hit the landing craft door and crashed on top of the 29th, drenching them and their equipment.

“Christ, My camera!” Frankoff screamed.

The landing craft began to approach the beach, the German machine guns were beginning to grow louder as they echoed off the bluffs behind them. A loud explosion startled all of the men and made Pvt. John Rainey nearly fall down.

“That was that 80mm flak gun,” Frankoff said cautiously.

“Why do we have to take it out again?” asked Rainey facetiously.

“FUBAR.”[62] replied Frankoff, referring to a certain military acronym popular with U.S. troops in World War II.

The reenactors dressed as Navy crewmen signaled to the 29th reenactors that they would be hitting the beach very shortly. The division’s chaplain, who complained of feeling seasick several minutes after getting into the boat, now put the whole crew into a realistic frame of mind by reciting the 23rd Psalm.

Just as he finished, the boat hit the sand and all the reenactors rocked forward into each other. The boat’s ramp opened up and each man dove off of the craft onto the sand as fast as they could and ran for cover at the edge of the grassy area that separated the water line and the beach. To their right, British and Canadian troops were already landing and charging towards German trenches, guarded by several strongpoints and a large German tank. While the reenactors regrouped and waited for their commanding officers, the confusion and anxiety had settled and now the sight of American’s landing while withstanding German fire was encouraging. The 1st Infantry Division reenactors landed to the 29th’s immediate left, with several companies of Rangers. The men were all ordered to drink water and load their ammunition into their weapons as the commanders, who landed in separate crafts, gathered their staff and gave orders immediately.

“Mortar’s set up now, fire at these bearings,” said Lt. Veneziano as he looked at a camouflaged bunker.

“First squad and flamethrower get to that bunker,” he said pointing directly ahead of him.

“Demo get up, you’re next.” he barked to Frankoff.

The team began to fire some shots over to the Germans, though none of them were going to fall down at the beginning of the reenactment. The loud 80mm flak gun fired towards the sky and the crashing sound made every reenactor suddenly appreciate he or she wasn’t alive for the real operation. The first squad, consisting of only riflemen and the flamethrower, awkwardly ran through the sand towards the bunker ahead, all of them dropping within seconds as they were terribly exposed to the bunker’s machine-gun and rifle fire. Lt. Ostrander surveyed their demise and put on a frown, figuring that the Germans in the bunker would be stubborn and refuse to give up, putting the division behind schedule. Lt. Veneziano also surveying the first squads failure, pointed at Frankoff and made a chopping motion towards the bunker and 80mm flak gun which were 20 yards away.

“DEMO UP!” Frankoff shouted.

With that command, several reenactors stumbled to their feet with heavy equipment and began charging towards the bunker. The 80mm which was at first pointed at the clouds, was now facing the demolition team commanded by Sgt. Frankoff and as soon as they left the grass it fired into the attacking group. Each man of Frankoff’s squad, which included John Rainey, Tony Dietz, and Greg Durnell, fell upon the sand, “killed in action” by the German Flak gun. About several minutes later, they began to be pulled behind the grassy area by medics and were “revived” to get up and fight further.

As the reenactors stormed the shore, most charging past tank traps and various other obstacles, the spectators watched in amazement. The German fire was continuous and the Allies began building up forces behind the small cover provided by holes in the beach and behind obstacles. Other reenactors were “dead” on the sand either watching the battle or face down seemingly exhausted from running. Allied medic’s attended to a few reenactors and wrapped bandages around various body parts for simulated wounds, as the Germans fired down on them from the bluff.

The 29th began to reassemble its forces and charged towards the bunker and 80mm gun. With the bunker taken out, this signaled the men on the Eastern side of the beach to charge towards the bottom of the bluff, where they could fire up at the German defenses. The German reenactors began surrendering and walking with their hands up towards Allied reenactors who made a show out of “mistreating” the prisoners and pushing them around lightly, though most who did this were actually friends with their prisoners. The reenactors began to storm up the bluff and take the hill, which the crowd began to roar with a deafening applause. The Allied force now stormed up the hill through a hail of fire and grenades and stumbling over the German bodies that littered the area. Although the outcome of the battle was known, the German reenactors stubbornly resisted surrendering for several minutes. After the last bunker was “taken out” by an Allied reenactor, the crowd cheered extensively.

With the reenactment over, the announcer dedicated a moment of silence to those soldiers who did not come off of Omaha Beach, as well as all of those who did not come home from World War II. The silence was observed by Allied and Axis reenactors alike. With an end to the battle, the reenactors began to strip off their heavy equipment and reorganize back into their formations. The 29th, as per tradition, took a unit picture and assembled in front of the battlefield and the remaining crowd. Their screams of “29 Let’s Go!” startled a few crowd members who remained behind. After toasting to another successful D-Day mission, Lt. Veneziano and Major O’Neill ordered the men to drink water and begin to pack up all the equipment to bring back to the camp. As they did most of the men began to swap their “war stories” that had just occurred.

“That 88 went off and we all went down, we all just got sent on a suicide mission,” Rainey said jokingly.

“Yeah man, I came in and that German in the bunker got me,” Frankoff said.

“I thought it was funny when I told you to show that German your Jewish star. He had no idea what to say,” said Dietz.

Several veterans who were present at D-Day visited the reenactors shortly after they exited the beach and shook their hands, some openly tearing up and extending their thanks to the men. One veteran came to a reenactor and hugged him in gratitude. As the crowd in the park began to disperse, the reenactors walked around and talked to the crowd in a supportive atmosphere. One small boy had stopped a reenactor and asked him to sign a piece of paper, another had walked up to a reenactor and asked for a blank bullet round out of his M1 Garand.

As the sun set, the crowd dispersed, leaving Conneaut at battle’s end. Champagne, Calvados, whiskey, and beer flowed during the after parties for the event, which were labeled as USO shows. Everyone shared in the period music and dancing. “In the Mood” by Glenn Miller, “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B” by the Andrews Sisters, and “Sing, Sing, Sing” by Benny Goodman boomed throughout Conneaut. Though the beach landing was over, some reenactors combed the beach and sat down in the sand. Others rested in their tents, drifted around near the food trucks and vendors, and some put on their dress uniforms for the upcoming dances. There was a shared sense that the event was a success and the veterans who were there to witness it were proud and amazed. They could only hope that those who were gone would have been proud at their living history reenactment.

 

            Chapter 5: After the Fact

World War II reenacting is a unique and interesting hobby with a widespread and expansive community that is dedicated to preserving the memory of World War II. While the hobby is not well known, it is highly commendable for its focus on veterans and history as well as its unique approach to educating the public on World War II, as D-Day Ohio shows. At D-Day Ohio, reenactors and spectators shared deep respect and attention given to every veteran during the event. While some might be skeptical about reenacting as a positive form of education and entertainment, for many it serves as connection to something much more meaningful than dressing up and playing soldier.

During the reenactment at D-Day Ohio, I found the life of reenactors to be more interesting than their uniforms and characters. Army officers, web developers, college students, and handymen donned uniforms and cradled vintage rifles. They were motivated by many things, including interest in history and the adrenaline of running up a beach getting “shot” at with no repercussions. The real focus was on those who waded onto the shores of Normandy 70 years ago. Though their uniforms and language  seemed the same, the reenactors came from diverse backgrounds, much like a real military unit and this united the group into American soldiers with similar ideals.

In some ways Conneaut was like other festivals in the mid-West, with American flags abundant, “Reveille”,“Taps”, and the powerful smell of barbecues and diesel trucks. What was different were the clothes, guns, vehicles, and soldiers from the 1940s, and the re-creation of the loss and chaos that occurred on June 6th, 1944. A large part of its program was dedicated to the battle’s aftereffects and those who did not live through it. I found the whole event to be a success in terms of honoring both the fallen and the living, while making sure everyone remembered what they had accomplished for their country.

Somewhat ironically, German soldiers who dressed in shades of grey and black, with unmistakable steel helmets, and sharp leather field equipment, they attracted most of the attention. Both veterans and spectators admired the sharp uniforms and deadly weapons of the Germans more than the olive-drab uniforms and iconic rifles of the Americans. Fascination with German military fashion and war relics is common. I feared the appearance of Nazis at such a patriotic event would be problematic, but instead added to the atmosphere of the camp and provided the public with the knowledge of how the German military operated. By experiencing the war firsthand, the participants and spectators were literally reliving the war.

Reenacting provides a deeper understanding of history, which goes beyond reading, watching, or hearing about it.[63] It gives the reenactor an assumed identity for the time period, thus giving them the feeling that they are connecting to history and have lived through it, a nostalgic feeling for a previous era and culture. If only for a fleeting moment, one may understand how these men must have felt as the landing crafts approached ‘bloody Omaha beach’. Running up the Norman bluffs under intense fire, and falling in the heat of battle, however does not bring the same discomfort, pain, and death in Conneaut that the soldiers actually felt.

Although World War II reenacting is not a typical way one to understand war, it is a useful device to bond one to history. It is overall a well-intentioned hobby that in its efforts to honor history and provide this time machine into the past for its participants and audience, also serves as a highly entertaining and educational event. To some, reenacting can be a strange and foreign world and its meaning and objectives can be debated and cross-examined. For me, it was a beneficial way to give distinction to those who served, those who died, and those who fought on June 6th, 1944 and every other day in World War II. World War II reenacting can be viewed as a strange activity, an honor, a crazy hobby, a fun hobby, a way to be a part of history, or just another way for a normal American to play soldier.

me

Works Cited

Bryant, Albert W. Military Organizations. Proceedings of Lexington Historical Society and Papers Relating to the History of the Town. Vol. 2. Lexington, KY: Lexington Historical Society, 1900. 92-96. Print.

 

Kershaw, Alex. Bocage. The Bedford Boys: One American Town’s Ultimate D-Day Sacrifice. Cambridge: Da Capo, 2003. 180. Print.

Kershaw, Alex. Going to War. The Bedford Boys: One American Town’s Ultimate D-Day Sacrifice. Cambridge, Mass.: Da Capo, 2003. 7. Print.

 

Barnes, Alexander F. Arrival in Britain and D-Day to St. Lo. Let’s Go! The History of the 29th Division. 1917-2001. Atglen: Schiffer, 2014. 132. Print.

 

Barnes, Alexander F. From Home to the Rio Grande. Let’s Go! The History of the 29th Division. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2014. 7-15. Print.

 

Kemmer, Benton C., and Kemmer, Karen L. “What Is “Living History”?. So, Ye Want to Be a Reenactor?: A Living History Handbook. Bowie, MD: Heritage, 2001. Print.

 

Ryburn, Berta. What is an Ancient Reenactment?. How to Start a Hobby in Ancient Reenactment. London: Sam Enrico, 2014. 2. Print.

Firth, C.H. A Sham Fight in 1645. Cromwell’s Army; a History of the English Soldier during the Civil Wars, the Commonwealth and the Protectorate. London: Methuen, 1962. 399-400. Print.

 

McNab, Chris. Servants of the Reich. Hitler’s Masterplan: The Essential Facts and Figures for Hitler’s Third Reich. London: Amber, 2011. 152-53. Print.

Ryan, Cornelius. The Longest Day: June 6, 1944. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1959. Print.

 

Ryan, Cornelius. The Wait. The Longest Day. New York: Popular Library, 1959. Print.

Tibbets, Graham, “Neo-Nazis Infiltrate WWII Reenactment Group,” The Telegraph[London], Web. 25 Aug. 2007.

 

Anstruther, Ian. Epilogue. The Knight and the Umbrella: An Account of the Eglinton Tournament. London: Geoffrey Bles, 1963. 246-47. Print.

 

Thompson, Jenny. Dog and Pony Shows. War Games: Inside the World of 20th-century War Reenactors. Washington, DC: Smithsonian, 2004. 110. Print.

 

Gawne, Jonathan. Before the Storm. Spearheading D-Day: American Special Units of the Normandy Invasion. Paris: Histoire & Collections, 1998. Print.

 

Gawne, Jonathan. The Assault Troops. Spearheading D-Day: American Special Units of the Normandy Invasion. Paris: Histoire & Collections, 1998. 110. Print.

Balkoski, Joseph. Bullets Like Rain. Omaha Beach: D-Day, June 6, 1944. Mechanicsburg, PA.: Stackpole Books, 2004. 157-162. Print.

 

Balkoski, Joseph. Preface. Omaha Beach: D-Day, June 6, 1944. Mechanicsburg, PA.: Stackpole Books, 2004. xix. Print.

 

Balkoski, Joseph. Realism Not Pessimism. Omaha Beach: D-Day, June 6, 1944. Mechanicsburg, PA.: Stackpole Books, 2004. 20-23. Print.

 

Balkoski, Joseph. The End of the Beginning. Omaha Beach: D-Day, June 6, 1944. Mechanicsburg, PA.: Stackpole Books, 2004. 66. Print.

 

Clemons, Leigh. Present Enacting Past The Functions of Battle Reenacting in Historical Representation. Enacting History. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama, 2011. 10-11. Print.

 

Morgan, Martin K.A. La Fiere. The Americans on D-Day : A Photographic History of the Normandy Invasion. Minneapolis: Zenith, 2014. Print.

Bikle, Philip R. “March on Rebs—Blues Advanced on the Grays Wednesday Night”. The Gettysburg Times. 3 July 1913, sec. 207: 1. Print.

Atkinson, Rick. Hell’s Beach. The Guns at Last Light: The War In Western Europe, 1944-1945. New York, N.Y.: Henry Holt and Company, 2013. 64-66. Print.

Slayton, Robert A. Reenacting Evil. The Commentary 132.3 (2011):New York, NY: The Commentary Inc, Oct. 10, 2011, 43-45. Print.

Hadden, Robert Lee. Reenactment, Living History, and Teaching History Reliving the Civil War a Reenactor’s Handbook. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole, 1999. 4-6. Print.

 

Auget, Roland. The Hunts of the Amphitheater. Cruelty and Civilization: The Roman Games. London: Routledge, 1994. 100-104. Print.

Turner, Rory. “Bloodless Battles: The Civil War Reenacted.” Tdr 34.4 (1990): New York, NY: New York University/Tisch School of the Arts, 134. Print.

Ambrose, Stephen E. The Attackers. D-Day, June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II. New York, N.Y.: Simon and Schuster, 1994. 39-41. Print.

 

Ambrose, Stephen E. The Attackers. D-Day, June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II. New York, N.Y.: Simon and Schuster, 1994. 49. Print.

 

Ambrose, Stephen E. The Defenders. D-Day, June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II. New York, N.Y.: Simon and Schuster, 1994. 37. Print.

Zaloga, Steven J. D-Day: 1944 (1), Oxford, UK.: Osprey Publishing, 2003. 49-52. Print.

Kershaw, Alex. The First Wave. The Bedford Boys: One American Town’s Ultimate D-Day Sacrifice. Cambridge, Mass.: Da Capo, 2003. 124. Print.

Barnes, Alexander F. Arrival in Britain and D-Day to St. Lo. Let’s Go! The History of the 29th Division. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2014. 135. Print.

Naumova, Alvetina. “Touching” The Past: Investigating Lived Experiences Of Heritage In Living History Museums. International Journal Of The Inclusive Museum 7.3/4 (2015): 1-8. Art Full Text (H.W. Wilson). Web. 15 Oct. 2014.

Fiftieth Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg Commission. Fiftieth Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg: Report of the Pennsylvania Commission, Presented to His Excellency, John K.

Tener, Governor of Pennsylvania, for Transmittal to the General Assembly, Harrisburg, PA: Wm. Stanley Ray, State Printer, Web.1913.

Bodnar, John. The Memory Debate. Remaking America: Public Memory, Commemoration, and Patriotism in the Twentieth Century. Princeton, NJ.: Princeton University Press. 1992, 13-16. Print.

Green, Joshua. “Why Is This GOP House Candidate Dressed as a Nazi?” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 08 Oct. 2010. Web. 05 Nov. 2014.

Stoler, Mark A. The Second World War In U.S. History and Memory. Diplomatic History 25.3 (2001): 383. Print.

McCarthy, Patrick. “Living History” As The “Real Thing”: A Comparative Analysis Of The Modern Mountain Man Rendezvous, Renaissance Fairs, And Civil War Reenactments. ETC: A Review Of General Semantics 71.2 (2014): 106-123. Print.

Bull, Stephen, “Second World War Infantry Tactics: The European Theatre,” Barnsley: Pen & Sword Military, 2012, Print.

Ambrose, Stephen E. Training. D-Day, June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II. New York, N.Y.: Simon and Schuster, 1994. 138. Print.

Zaloga, Steven. The Devil’s Garden. The Devil’s Garden: Rommel’s Desperate Defense of Omaha Beach on D-Day. Mechanicsburg, PA.: Stackpole Books, 2013. 101-113. Print.

Brokaw, Tom. Ordinary People. The Greatest Generation. New York, NY.: Random House Publishing. 1998, 9-15. Print.

www.atthefront.com

http://www.hardscrabblefarm.com/ww2/index.htmwww.whatpriceglory.com www.wwiiimpressions.comwww.worldwartwohrs.orghttp://www.29thdivision.com

  1. Author in uniform at D-day Ohio. (Daisy Happaney)

[1] Jenny Thompson. Those Guys Need Therapy. War Games: Inside the World of 20th-century War Reenactors. Washington, DC: Smithsonian, 2004. xiv. Print.

[2] Benton C. Kemmer, and Karen L. Kemmer. What Is “Living History”?. So, Ye Want to Be a Reenactor?: A Living History Handbook. Bowie, MD: Heritage, 2001. Print.

[3] Jenny Thompson. Dog and Pony Shows. War Games: Inside the World of 20th-century War Reenactors. Washington, DC: Smithsonian, 2004. 109. Print.

[4] Roland Auget. The Hunts of the Amphitheater. Cruelty and Civilization: The Roman Games.

London: Routledge, 1994. 100-104. Print.

[5] Berta Ryburn. What is an Ancient Reenactment?. How to Start a Hobby in Ancient Reenactment. London: Sam Enrico, 2014. 2. Print.

[6] C.H. Firth. A Sham Fight in 1645. Cromwell’s Army; a History of the English Soldier during the Civil Wars, the Commonwealth and the Protectorate. London: Methuen, 1962. 399-400. Print.

[7] Ian Anstruther. Epilogue. The Knight and the Umbrella: An Account of the Eglinton Tournament. London: Geoffrey Bles, 1963. 246-47. Print.

[8] Albert W. Bryant. Military Organizations. Proceedings of Lexington Historical Society and Papers Relating to the History of the Town. Vol. 2. Lexington, KY: Lexington Historical Society, 1900. 92-96. Print.

[9] Jenny Thompson. Those Guys Need Therapy. War Games: Inside the World of 20th-century War Reenactors. Washington, DC: Smithsonian, 2004. xii. Print.

[10] Robert Lee Hadden. Reenactment, Living History, and Teaching History Reliving the Civil War a Reenactor’s Handbook. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole, 1999. 4-5. Print.

[11] Robert Lee Hadden. Reenactment, Living History, and Teaching History. Reliving the Civil War a Reenactor’s Handbook. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole, 1999. 4-5. Print.

[12] Fiftieth Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg Commission. Fiftieth Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg: Report of the Pennsylvania Commission, Presented to His Excellency, John K.

Tener, Governor of Pennsylvania, for Transmittal to the General Assembly, Harrisburg, PA: Wm. Stanley Ray, State Printer, Web.1913.

[13] Phillip R. Bikle. March on Rebs—Blues Advanced on the Grays Wednesday Night. The Gettysburg Times. 3 July 1913, sec. 207: 1. Print.

[14] Robert Lee Hadden. Reenactment, Living History, and Teaching History Reliving the Civil War a Reenactor’s Handbook. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole, 1999. 4-6. Print.

[15] Leigh Clemons. Present Enacting Past The Functions of Battle Reenacting in Historical Representation. Enacting History. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama, 2011. 10-11. Print.

[16] Graham Tibbets, “Neo-Nazis Infiltrate WWII Reenactment Group,” The Telegraph[London], Web. 25 Aug. 2007.

[17] Stephen Bull, “Second World War Infantry Tactics: The European Theatre,” Barnsley: Pen & Sword Military, 2012, Print.

[18] Jenny Thompson. Hazardous Activity for My Own Recreation, Enjoyment, and Pleasure. War Games: Inside the World of 20th-century War Reenactors. Washington, DC: Smithsonian, 2004. 1-11. Print.

[19] Jenny Thompson. Something They Do in California. War Games: Inside the World of 20thcentury War Reenactors. Washington, DC: Smithsonian, 2004. 45. Print.

[20] Jenny Thompson.”Dog and Pony Shows” War Games: Inside the World of 20th-century War Reenactors. Washington, DC: Smithsonian, 2004. 95. Print.

[21] Jonah Begone. “Soldiers, Actors and Reenactors: How “Band of Brothers” Relates to Historical Reenacting.” Captain Dale Dye Trains Actors – or Is It Reenactors. 2 Apr. 2002. Web.

[22] Mar. 2015. <http://wesclark.com/jw/dale_dye.html>.

[23] Joshua Green. “Why Is This GOP House Candidate Dressed as a Nazi?” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 08 Oct. 2010. Web. 05 Nov. 2014. <http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/ archive/2010/10/why-is-this-gop-house-candidate-dressed-as-a-nazi/64319/>.

[24] Jenny Thompson. We Must Police Ourselves Constantly. War Games: Inside the World of 20th-century War Reenactors. Washington, DC: Smithsonian, 2004. 13o. Print.

[25] Jenny Thompson. Dog and Pony Shows. War Games: Inside the World of 20th-century War Reenactors. Washington, DC: Smithsonian, 2004. 101-103. Print.

[26] Jenny Thompson. Hazardous Activity for My Own Recreation, Enjoyment, and Pleasure. War Games: Inside the World of 20th-century War Reenactors. Washington, DC: Smithsonian, 2004. 1-4. Print.

[27] Jenny Thompson. Dog and Pony Shows. War Games: Inside the World of 20th-century War Reenactors. Washington, DC: Smithsonian, 2004. 110. Print.

[28] Rory Turner. “Bloodless Battles: The Civil War Reenacted.” Tdr  34.4 (1990): New York, NY:

New York University/Tisch School of the Arts, 134. Print.

[29] I use italics here to separate the history and background of the Invasion of Normandy and the rest of the story.

[30] Cornelius Ryan. The Longest Day: June 6, 1944. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1959. Print.

[31] Joseph Balkoski. Preface. Omaha Beach: D-Day, June 6, 1944. Mechanicsburg, PA.: Stackpole Books, 2004. xix. Print.

[32] Stephen E. Ambrose. The Defenders. D-Day, June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II. New York, N.Y.: Simon and Schuster, 1994. 37. Print.

[33] Joseph Balkoski. The End of the Beginning. Omaha Beach: D-Day, June 6, 1944. Mechanicsburg, PA.: Stackpole Books, 2004. 66. Print.

[34] Stephen E. Ambrose. The Attackers. D-Day, June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II. New York, N.Y.: Simon and Schuster, 1994. 39-41. Print.

[35] Alexander F. Barnes. From Home to the Rio Grande. Let’s Go! The History of the 29th Division. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2014. 7-15. Print.

[36] Alex Kershaw. Going to War. The Bedford Boys: One American Town’s Ultimate D-Day Sacrifice. Cambridge, Mass.: Da Capo, 2003. 7. Print.

[37] Stephen E. Ambrose. The Attackers. D-Day, June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II. New York, N.Y.: Simon and Schuster, 1994. 49. Print.

[38] Alexander F. Barnes. Arrival in Britain and D-Day to St. Lô. Let’s Go! The History of the 29th Division. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2014. 134-135. Print.

[39] Vincent Fusco. “ARMY.MIL, The Official Homepage of the United States Army.” West Point Explores Science of Camouflage. U.S. Army News Service, 3 June 2010. Web. 30 Mar. 2015. <http://www.army.mil/article/40245/>.

[40] Timothy R. O’Neill. “Lt. Col. Timothy R. O’Neill (U.S. Army, Ret.).” Lt. Col. Timothy R. O’Neill (U.S. Army, Ret.). 20 Aug. 2007. Web. 30 Mar. 2015. <http://www.thelivingmoon.com/ 41pegasus/12insiders/Tim_ONeill_01.html>.

[41] Spoken words of Lt. Paul Veneziano.

[42] Spoken words of Rainey and Frankoff.

[43] Alexander F. Barnes. Arrival in Britain and D-Day to St. Lo. Let’s Go! The History of the 29th Division. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2014. 135. Print.

[44] Stephen E. Ambrose. Training. D-Day, June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II. New York, N.Y.: Simon and Schuster, 1994. 138. Print.

[45] Rick Atkinson. Hell’s Beach. The Guns at Last Light: The War In Western Europe, 1944-1945. New York, N.Y.: Henry Holt and Company, 2013. 64-66. Print.

[46] Joseph Balkoski. Bullets Like Rain. Omaha Beach: D-Day, June 6, 1944. Mechanicsburg, PA.: Stackpole Books, 2004. 157-162. Print.

[47] Steven Zaloga. The Devil’s Garden. The Devil’s Garden: Rommel’s Desperate Defense of Omaha Beach on D-Day. Mechanicsburg, PA.: Stackpole Books, 2013. 101-113. Print.

[48] Joseph Balkoski. Realism Not Pessimism. Omaha Beach: D-Day, June 6, 1944. Mechanicsburg, PA.: Stackpole Books, 2004. 20-23. Print.

[49] Alex Kershaw. The First Wave. The Bedford Boys: One American Town’s Ultimate D-Day Sacrifice. Cambridge, Mass.: Da Capo, 2003. 124. Print.

[50] Steven J. Zaloga. D-Day: 1944 (1), Oxford, UK.: Osprey Publishing, 2003. 49-52. Print.

[51] Jonathan Gawne. Before the Storm. Spearheading D-Day: American Special Units of the Normandy Invasion. Paris: Histoire & Collections, 1998. Print.

[52] Interview with Tony Dietz at Conneaut.

[53] Interview with Betsy Bashore.

[54] The Bronze Star Medal is a United States military decoration awarded for bravery in a combat zone, acts of merit, or meritorious service.

[55] Interview with Arden C. Earll at Conneaut.

[56] Cornelius Ryan. The Wait. The Longest Day. New York: Popular Library, 1959. Print.

[57] Martin K.A. Morgan. La Fiere. The Americans on D-Day : A Photographic History of the Normandy Invasion. Minneapolis: Zenith, 2014. Print.

[58] Alex Kershaw. Bocage. The Bedford Boys: One American Town’s Ultimate D-Day Sacrifice.

Cambridge: Da Capo, 2003. 180. Print.

[59] Saint-Lô was a town in Normandy which saw heavy fighting, mostly with the 29th Infantry Division. The division already depleted after D-Day faced even more casualties in the small town covered in hedgerows.

[60] Alexander F. Barnes. Arrival in Britain and D-Day to St. Lo. Let’s Go! The History of the 29th Division 1917-2001. Atglen: Schiffer, 2014. 132. Print.

[61] Jonathan Gawne. The Assault Troops. Spearheading D-Day: American Special Units of the Normandy Invasion. Paris: Histoire & Collections, 1998. 110. Print.

[62] There are many military acronyms and slang terms that have been used in history, one of the more famous examples is FUBAR, which was first used in World War II by American soldiers.

This stands for Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition.

[63] Alvetina Naumova. “Touching” The Past: Investigating Lived Experiences Of Heritage In Living History Museums. International Journal Of The Inclusive Museum 7.3/4 (2015): 1-8. Art Full Text (H.W. Wilson). Web. 15 Oct. 2014.

Friday the 13th Game Gets Film Franchise Right

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Friday the 13th is a multiplayer game released this year whose primary focus was on allowing you to play either as the infamous Jason Voorhees of the horror franchise or one of the oblivious and stereotypical counselors attending the cursed summer camp at Crystal Lake. The concept of having an asymmetrical, competitive and cooperative multiplayer game is perfect for the Friday the 13th franchise, so this type of game has been a long time coming.

This is not the first Friday the 13th game out there, since we also had one during the 80s, though that one was given primarily poor reviews. But this is the first proper, multiplayer focused Friday the 13th game released on consoles and it does a very good job with the idea of being the mother-loving undead slasher that tries to find and eliminate his victims in the most gruesome (and entertaining!) ways possible.

The game was developed via fan donations, with Backerkit and Kickstarter being the primary forces behind this game, making it the 124th most successful crowdfunded project of all time. Creating this type of game was something that a lot of people, both the public and the game developers, have been expecting for quite a while, so seeing this released after so many times is very refreshing, that’s for sure.

The game does come with some nice gameplay mechanics, and it manages to impress players with its outstanding focus on creating a deep, yet endlessly thrilling experience. When you play Friday the 13th, you always feel the adrenaline rushing through your veins, especially when the music kicks in and you hear the door being chopped into splinters. It’s one of the most challenging games that you can go through, especially since the sheer concept is focused on staying alive regardless of the situation.

Despite that, it is less of a survival game and more of a multiplayer puzzle-solver. Though you separate from your fellow counselors almost immediately at the start, the easiest way to make it out of the area is to do all you can to stay together and reach the end of the match while still being alive. It’s not going to be easy to get into the game, since the player base that is still online right now is pretty good at the game, and dedicated players have already reached the highest of levels. Most are not afraid to ditch you in the woods as a quick snack for the slasher while they make their run for the vehicles.

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The most interesting aspects of the game shine when you are alone in a cabin, searching and scrounging for any survival tools there can be, though at the start these pickings can be slim. Suddenly, the soundtrack changes and your character begins to panic. What’s worse is when you see other counselors springing out of cabin windows to escape a hulking mass of dead flesh topped off with either a hockey mask or an even more horrifying burlap sack. With all the players heading for the hills, you get caught in the crosshairs of the one player who just loves to search-and-destroy the others. With some luck, you may have a firecracker, or a pocketknife. If not, you are forced to button mash until Jason inevitably takes you apart one way or the other in a heartless cut scene which is aimed only to please the player controlling the killer. If you are a decent player, or better yet, Jason is a bit slower then you make your way to a vehicle and the exit. With some extra waiting and hiding you can call in the cops and make a mad-dash for their open arms (and free fire for Jason), or perhaps get reincarnated as the horror icon’s enemy, Tommy Jarvis.

What the developers got right is the rush and the challenging experience of going around the map as you try to get items and maybe win the game. Playing as Jason is a ton of fun, and each time you can find creative new ways to kill your opponents. Dead by Daylight is a great example of a similar game that does that, but knowing the Friday the 13th movies and Jason does add a lot more depth and fun to the game. Especially to horror-hounds and film freaks alike.

Keep in mind that aside from the overall unfriendly and unsupportive community, the game also has a steep learning curve. It can take a while to get going on here, even if the mechanics are rather easy to understand and a lot of fun as a whole. The game takes a surprising amount of strategy, or you will be forced to watch your character take a turn for the worse in the woods of Camp Crystal Lake.

But the problem here is the community. A lot of people are toxic here, and the community tends to leave newbies on their own. You won’t get any help in case you are unable to play the game at the level that your teammates want. This leads to a lot of trolling, which is not exactly the type of thing you want from a hugely anticipated game like this one is.

There is a decent amount of gore in the game, and the general feel is all-adult. But a lot of kids are still playing the game, which is rather bizarre and definitely not something that the developer anticipated. Though it is hardly a problem for them.
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The concept for this game isn’t exactly revolutionary, but is enjoyable. The idea of having a very powerful killer and people that work together to eliminate him is extremely interesting and fun. However, it’s the execution that lacks in Friday the 13th, but even so, the game is really good at what it does here. It manages to bring in that sense of urgency each time you play. You always want to reach the end of the game without dying, and that obviously brings in that own sense of rush and tons of challenging situations. It’s certainly one of the ways that Friday the 13th manages to stand out over Dead by Daylight. It is something that can happen in real life, and the struggle of staying alive is something you will love in the game.

There’s also that itch of having to play more and more times to get good. The gameplay is so rewarding and exciting if you can find the right partners. People don’t like the fact that teammates are not cooperating, so many times it’s not Jason against a team of potential victims, it’s everyone for himself. That can lead to many situations when the killer may win.
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The developers wanted to release this game fast, so when it did arrive on Steam and consoles, it had a ton of bugs. People dropped out of the game for no reason, some of them had VAC bans on Steam and so on. There was also a time when there were some game-breaking bugs, even though those were solved. Patch updates are prevalent and released regularly, though sometimes it appears it is like putting tape on the holes of the bottom of a sinking boat.

At the time of this writing, Friday the 13th still has a lot to prove, and with Halloween around the corner, there are some interesting avenues that can be taken. Yet there are still some things that the community would want to be solved, leaving the forums filled with players that feel like their complaints are falling on the dev’s deaf ears.

For example, the game is $40, or even more if you live in Europe. That makes it extremely expensive when its primary competitor is around $20 or less. Sure, the licensing costs may add to the overall price, but still, you have a similar concept at half the price with Dead by Daylight. And then there’s the fact that the developers are already pushing out DLC announcements when the game needs a lot of bug repairs and stability updates. That being said, players enjoy this game, and it would be a lot better if the developers would focus on the core gameplay and overall bug fixes instead of adding more paid content that could potentially bring in even more problems. At the end of the day, the game is a fun flashback to the 80s and a refreshing take on survival horror games. It’s been a while that we have seen a film-related game find its way to the top-spot, and a franchise such as Friday the 13th is the perfect pick for a slasher-centered game. What would save it and maybe even bring in more players would be a better focus on bug fixes and adding more free content. Whether that will arrive or not, we will have to wait and see.

 

King Clown is Back in Business!

it-pennywise

Remakes are usually discarded long before they release out into theatres. Audiences complain that directors will stray too far from their predecessor’s path and venture into unfamiliar territory turning cult classics into box-office bombs. This isn’t the case for Andy Muschietti’s It, inspired by the brutal horror novel by Stephen King. To call this version a “remake” wouldn’t be acceptable, it would be more correct to call it an adaptation of the novel itself and not the mini-series directed by Tommy Lee Wallace in 1990 starring the amazing English actor Tim Curry in the titular role. Though the 1990 version hit the small screen only, it became a cult classic and sparked a whole new generation of kids with coulrophobia (fear of clowns).

From the start of the new adaptation, it is apparent that the dark and ominous Derry, Maine will be scarier than the killer clown himself. Each home equipped with dark hallways and flooded cellars, libraries with horrifying basements, woods with large sewer pipes to get lost in, even the local fluorescent-lit drug store is run by a possible pedophile. Though the scariest character is introduced quite quickly, the real spotlight goes to the kids who play the main roles. The troubled stuttering young Bill, recently traumatized over the loss of his younger brother, (a scene which made the movie show it wasn’t here to play games) the fast-talking hypochondriac attached to his mothers’ hip, the foul-mouthed wisecracking comedian, and the somewhat silent but logical Jew stricken with OCD. These misfits somehow find themselves befriending a lonely and overweight new kid on the block, an orphaned African-American who is the target of local bullies, and a smart, fire-haired girl who is also an easy target to the local bullies. Each and every character seem to share the spotlight harmoniously and the sense of real relationships between them can be sensed through the screen. The addition of real-life problems such as puberty and humiliation makes you connect on a personal level. That is why this horror film fell short of hitting the mark of absolutely terrifying.

Though the casting of Swedish actor Bill Skarsgård is on point, the real chink in It’s shining new armor is the use of CGI. Sure, CGI allows the clown to roll out of a refrigerator and assemble himself like a Rubik’s Cube but scenes where his jaws open up are less scary and more just creepy. The real lasting effects from It lies in Skarsgård’s performance, with his odd and unknown accent as Pennywise The Dancing Clown, the distance between Tim Curry’s version is astronomical. This fresh new character is soft spoken and almost childlike with words, rather than the boisterous and manic 1990 version. While the obvious influence of clowns gave birth to Tim Curry’s beautiful performance, Skarsgård’s lingers more on the fact that this isn’t a clown at all, it’s just wearing that as a skin. Some of the most uneasy moments were seeing It’s face change and distort from manic laughter into downright predatory instinct. The only downside being the CGI getting in the way of the actor’s performance showing this.

With the addition of a bunch of jump-scares turning the two-hour film into a horror delight, the film also added a bit of the unexpected: comedy. The talkative hypochondriac takes the cake for performances, with brash quips to contrast the curse-laden comic, played by Jack Dylan Grazer and Finn Wolfhard respectively. In fact, the use of curses adds a huge comedic effect to the whole film and arguably takes away from the terror (such as the scene with Eddie breaking his arm while It transforms before the group), but adds the realism we all went through at 13. The lost and lonely Beverly Marsh played by Sophia Lillis breaks off as a story of her own, with a sexual-abusive father and attempts by bullies to make her life horrible. The newcomer shines as a pubescent 13-year-old trapped in a love triangle with leader of the Loser’s Club, Bill Denbrough played by Jaeden Lieberher and the constantly bullied overweight member of the club Ben Hanscom played by Jeremy Ray Taylor. The far more serious (for good reason), orphaned Mike Hanlon played by Chosen Jacobs shows that you don’t need to be an outcast to be in the club, just different. Finally, the quiet and supportive Jewish germaphobe struggling to get through his Bar Mitzvah, also struggles with possibly one of the most horrifying manifestations of It in the movie. They all shine in their own ways and each with a distinct attitude that matches their character to a T.

Movie-Cast-2017

The original enemy of the gang, sociopathic Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton), is every kid’s nightmare at school. He is albeit a bit less sociopathic and troubled than his literary counterpart, though his performance is not marred by this fact. His minions, which were given much more screen time than those in the made-for-TV version, made good adversaries to the kids while It wasn’t lurking around. The most noticeable thing, and by far the best part about this movie, is the lack of adults. Though adults appear in the movie, they are often shown in a negative and small way. Almost every adult portrayed in the film brings with them a negative connotation or are bringing the children down in some way. This gives the kids the role of heroes and shows them taking control of the situation with no interference by the adults of the town, which are oddly nowhere to be seen in most scenes.

Though It was brought down by the CGI effect laden scenes, that no doubt still horrified me briefly, the film is a classic. The performances given by the actors and Skarsgård were phenomenal in their own ways and not once clashed with each other on the screen. With many new additions from the written work that made its way into this film and not the 1990 version, it will be interesting to see what will be added and expanded upon in the upcoming sequel. Hopefully, the killer clown will make an even more disturbing return and not brought down by quick special effects making the clown look more of a silly cartoon than a terrifying alien. Despite, the one small flaw that I found watching this blockbuster, I can truly say that it was well worth the wait and I am floating for any and all announcements regarding its successor in the series “It: Chapter Two”.

 

 

Image credits: 1 – CNET 2 – PopSugar

Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Continues to Intensify

by Jason Platzner

While the world is still shaken over the recent terror attacks in France, turmoil between Israelis and Palestinians remains constant in the state of Israel.
While one side aims for unity under one traditional belief and the other demands for independence, it seems the casualties have lately, in a time of peace discussions between the two states, been disregarded as unfortunate effects of conflicting ideals. The attacks remain a harsh day-to-day reality as it seems the killings will, unfortunately, persist for an unimaginable period of time.

A few days ago, Israelis and Jewish teenagers have been killed by a Palestinian attacker near a Jewish settlement on the West Bank. A total of five people were pronounced dead, with one being an 18-year-old American student from Mass. attending a yeshiva. While the most recent attacks have been stabbings, this attack involved a Palestinian man using a machine gun in his car to fire on other cars.

Another cause of concern would be an Islamist Militant Movement’s or Hamas’s encouragement of the attack, as well as so many others, labeling it as heroic over Twitter. Some Palestinians have also rallied around recent violence, when an official of the Palestinian Authority was reported to say that his 2-year-old son asked in a song to ‘‘Buy me a machine gun and a rifle, so that I will defeat Israel and the Zionists,” on Palestinian Authority television.

With the ongoing war in Syria has begun to spill over into Europe, Israel with its close proximity remains a target to both Palestinian militants and terrorists from other parts of the Middle East.  Syrian organizations could possibly be tied to Palestinian militants, but for the moment the focus has been on the terrorist attacks that have struck Israeli streets over the past few months. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has called the attacks terrorism during his recent trip to the Middle East. He went on to say that peace talks between Israel and Palestine won’t revive until President Barack Obama leaves office. For now, until Israel settles by slowly surrendering their independence and agreeing to deconstruct its Jewish state, Syria would continue sending fatal movements their way.

The killings at Tel Aviv are a reflection of the ongoing war since the militant in question seems to have yet taken another aggressive order to cause disruption in a place of worship which was a Jewish synagogue. Yet the Arab League secretary-general denounced Israel and its occupation of Palestinian territory in a speech read at the U.N. yesterday, and went on to say that this was the cause of terrorism in Europe and the Middle East.

While Israelis are getting as much help as possible among humanitarian organizations and countries despite the outcry of support for Palestine, it can presently only do so much to protect itself from these isolated attacks. Stabbings and shootings that extinguish Israeli and Palestinian lives have been countered by the Israeli Defense Forces’ and their dedication.

Attacks on the Sinai Peninsula have killed a total of 19 Israelis, with another stabbing taking place today against an Israeli soldier in the Southern West Bank, though the soldier survived the attack and the attacker was shot and killed. The clashes between the two states has also left 94 Palestinians dead, with many being attackers against Israeli citizens and soldiers. Even with John Kerry’s recent visit, the attacks still continue and have not shown any evidence of decreasing.

With the constant wave of violence hitting Israel’s streets, it is not unacceptable to add more precautionary measures as well as defense assets. It’s time for Israel to defend itself by putting utmost security measures in and around its territories, observing possible militant attacks and ultimately defending its inhabitants against any forms of terrorism. No life should be put on the line for any longer, regardless of its religion or beliefs.