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Actors honor WWII veterans



Published: Sat, July 23, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The event attracted more than 100 re-enactors and about 50 vendors.

HUBBARD - There's a respect for history that comes with being a battle re-enactor, even when that history belongs to the "bad guys."

"Everybody can't be a cowboy, and somebody has to be the Indians," said Brian McCaffigan of Pittsburgh, a member of a re-enactment group that portrays a German combat unit. "There were good men and bad men on both sides, and they all deserve to be represented."

He was one of about 100 people re-creating World War II battle scenes and camp life Saturday at the World War II Vehicle Rally and Swap Meet, sponsored by the World War II Vehicle Museum and Learning Center.

Groups personifying American, German, Russian and British soldiers and units participated.

The Kampfgruppe Europa, which draws members from Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, re-creates the history of the 6th SS Nord Gebirgsjagers (Northern mountain troops), who fought in Finland to stop the shipment of supplies by the Allies to Russian forces.

Humanizing soldiers' lives

The re-enactors, many of whom are of German or Austrian descent, say they can appreciate the individual soldier while not being sympathetic to the cause.

"The average soldier wasn't a member of the Nazi party and was fighting for his wife and family," said Ron Hoffman of Cleveland, who's in the unit with his two sons. "A lot of them didn't want to be there."

Chris Hoffman, one of Ron's sons, said, "You can watch the History Channel every day, but in their programs they don't tell the individual stories of soldiers. Doing something like this humanizes it."

A nearby group of U.S. troop re-enactors said it has also learned that most of a soldier's experience wasn't dramatic.

"It shows you the life of the G.I.," said Terry Check of Geauga County. "The nitty-gritty, how hot it was. What it was like to dig a foxhole."

Paying respect

Many of the re-enactors say they participate in the battles to pay tribute to those involved in the real thing.

"We want to honor the veterans, past, present and future," said David "Gabby" Sawdey of Jefferson, another member of the 83rd Infantry re-enactment group out of Toledo. "We do what we can to educate people about what the sacrifices of the World War II soldier were."

So do the Marlboro Volunteers of Alliance. The group takes its mobile display of military history to schools and community events.

The 44-foot-long former moving van houses replicas of uniforms from the Revolutionary and Civil wars, along with real uniforms worn in Operation Iraqi Freedom. There's also a display of old Iraqi currency from the Saddam Hussein regime, sent back by members on active duty.

"We're not advocates of war, and we make that clear," said Mark Turner, president of the Volunteers. "But we honor those who serve."

Learning experience

The event also gave visitors a chance to talk with re-enactors about their arms, uniforms and equipment. Visitors could also take a ride in a Sherman tank, which is part of the museum's permanent display. Almost 50 vendors sold World War II-themed books, videos and other memorabilia.

The event was the fourth annual rally and swap meet at the museum, which was founded by Henry Venetta of Warren. Its collection includes about 75 World War II-era vehicles in working condition plus displays of uniforms, weapons and other war artifacts.

"It's a learning experience for everybody," Venetta said of the rally. "Everyone who participates wants to keep the history alive, and I'm pleased that every year it gets bigger."

The museum seeks volunteers to lead group tours. Interested persons should call (330) 534-8125.




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