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February 21, 2013

Re-enactors Skill At Acting Out History Has Dual Purpose

Carlisle, PA (AP) To the uninitiated observer there is something a little disorienting about being in a room with 300-odd years worth of living military history re-enactors, where full-dress French and Indian War militia rub shoulders with World War II German Wehrmacht soldiers, as a World War I British soldier trades tips about where to buy boots with a Russian Army paratrooper.

A glance around the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center in Carlisle at Saturday’s re-enactor recruitment event shows a lot of fresh, young faces wearing uniforms of all types - a surreal moving montage of American history. With the 150th anniversary of Gettysburg around the corner, historical re-enacting has an opportunity to reinvigorate itself as events pique interest in the nation’s history.

Structurally, re-enacting is broken by time periods (say Civil War or World War I) then individuals are split between units (all of which are based on historical military units) on each side of the conflict. And while it’s easy to paint this hobby in broad brushstrokes as an odd American fetish, people have been re-enacting the past for thousands of years.

In their coliseum in Rome, Romans re-created historical Greek battles (now granted, no one is forcing modern men and women to choose between period dress and lions). In modern England and France, there are groups dedicated to the Dark Ages and the Napoleonic wars, even as other groups maintain World War II fighter planes and bombers for display.

Some people work on cars, or go bird watching. Some people dress up in wool surcoats and lug muskets, or semiautomatic World War II rifles, around grassy fields in New York and Pennsylvania.

The hobby is expensive, (a full-dress uniform with equipment can easily run several thousands dollars) time consuming and can bring on skeptical looks from the general public.

It begs the question: Why bother?

World War II re-enactors at a demonstration

``If you really want to learn history . there is a world of difference between reading a book and putting on a uniform,’’ said John Gildersleeve, of Winchester Va.

Enzo Carr can speak at length about what a pain it is to keep a U.S. Army dress uniform in tip-top shape. The young man can also talk in detail about the pros and cons of the various weapons used by the Army in World War II.

He was defending his unit’s M1919 A4 machine gun (lovingly named ``Wilma’’) from the weathered eye of Gildersleeve, who was playing one of any re-enactor’s favorite past-times: grilling a younger re-enactor on the finer points of his or her equipment.

``What’s the difference in the cyclical rate between an A6 and an A4?’’ Gildersleeve asked a khaki-clad Carr. Carr, to his credit, knew the answer and fired back a bunch of technical information on the weapon’s performance.

Like most re-enactors who have been in the hobby for more than a few decades, he’s bounced around time periods. Gildersleeve has marched in the Civil War, fought with the U.S. Army in World War II and is currently working with a German army unit. (The Germans, he said, simply have better toys.)

And yes, there’s an acknowledgement that maybe dressing up as a German solider might be taken a little oddly by the general public. And yes, it may seem a little strange to see a German and American soldier arguing over whether or not the war could have ended differently had the German’s pursued a machine gun development over other matters.

But as Gildersleeve pointed out completely unprompted: It’s a damn good thing history turned out the way it did.

Many of the re-enactors are ex-military who have a natural interest in their own profession’s history. Others are kids who grew up ``playing solider’’ during the Cold War, and admit to engaging in an escapist weekend fantasy — in other words, big boys playing with big toys.

Then there is the fight against what is seen in some circles as the general neglect of history by modern Americans.

Rick Clark, a Revolutionary War re-enactor with the Pennsylvania State Navy, participates in encampments near Philadelphia at the site of a former Revolutionary War fortress. He said that each year at least one person asks his group why the soldiers built their fortress so close to the airport.

That general lack of understanding is also evident to Roy Long, of Chambersburg, who is a French and Indian War re-enactor at Fort Frederick State Park in Maryland.

The Revolutionary War — and our subsequent independence from England — is predicated entirely on that earlier conflict, he would argue. England raised taxes to fight the French, the taxes angered Americans (who had gained combat experience fighting the French) which led our declaration of independence and subsequent victory.

But ask most people about the conflict and you’ll get a blank look, or a confused question about whether the French beat the Indians.

Still, to a non-re-enactor, it is disconcerting to see a German Army unit, or a southern Civil War calvary unit on display. At some level, you wonder: Is this really okay?

In unguarded moments of conversation, even the re-enactors themselves will admit to having some of the same qualms.

One World War II Allied re-enactor said he can see the historical worth of a having a German Army unit and even enjoys participating in encampments and activities with them.

But he also admitted that some groups (say those who pose as Nazi SS units) may cross a line.

And for some, it’s at that weird, surreal place — staring at a solider with a swastika on his arm — that the blurring of reality and history hits a little too close to home.

Team Retraces Shackleton’s Amazing 1916 Rescue

Wellington, New Zealand (AP) It’s been lauded as one of the greatest survival stories of all-time.

Nearly 100 years later, a group of British and Australian adventurers have discovered why. They re-enacted Ernest Shackleton’s journey to save his crew when their ship got stuck and sank in Antarctica’s icy waters.

Tim Jarvis and Barry “Baz” Gray reached an old whaling station on remote South Georgia island Monday, 19 days after leaving Elephant Island. Just as Shackleton did in 1916, Jarvis and his team sailed 800 nautical miles (1,300 kilometers) across the Southern Ocean in a small lifeboat and then climbed over crevasse-filled mountains in South Georgia.

The modern-day team of six used similar equipment and clothes. But the harsh conditions forced several of them to abandon their attempt along the way.

“It was epic, really epic, and we’ve arrived here against the odds,” Jarvis told his project manager Kim McKay after reaching the station, adding that “we had more than 20 crevasse falls up to our knees and Baz fell into a crevasse up to his armpits.”

McKay said Jarvis was suffering frostbite in his right foot after the journey. He planned Tuesday to hike to the grave site of Shackleton, who was buried on the island years after his journey.

Jarvis wasn’t the only one suffering foot problems. Three of the men couldn’t complete the climb after suffering the ailment trench foot, caused by prolonged exposure to cold and wet conditions.

Actual photo of the boat James Caird, Shackleton & his men as they embarked on the rescue mission.

“The boat was only 22 feet (6.8 meters) long. At any one time, only four men could be below deck, while the other two had to be on deck. They had 8-meter (26-foot) waves crashing onto the boat,” McKay said. “It was like they were playing a game of twister. If one moved, they all had to move. They were constantly wet and cold and they all arrived with varying degrees of trench foot.”

Shackleton completed the climb without a tent. Jarvis and his team were planning to do the same but were forced to use modern-day tents and sleeping bags when a blizzard hit. One member of the team turned back and then later rejoined Jarvis and Gray with more provisions and wearing modern-day clothing.

Shackleton’s survival story was remarkable in that the final two legs of his journey came after the 28 crew had endured more than a year in Antarctica. Their ship “Endurance” was trapped and then crushed by the ice pack and the men later sailed in lifeboats to Elephant Island, where 22 of them stayed, waiting for help. After reaching the whaling station, Shackleton was able to raise the alarm and save all his crew.

While Jarvis, who lives in Australia and also has British citizenship, and his team tried to recreate many of the conditions, there were limits ‚ they decided to eat salami rather than the penguins and seals on which Shackleton’s crew subsisted.

“These early explorers were iron men in wooden boats,” Jarvis told McKay, adding that he hoped “we’ve been able to emulate some of what they achieved.”

Virginia Volunteers Offer Chocolate & Hugs

Waynesboro, VA (AP) Moviegoers got more than just tickets when they arrived at a Waynesboro theater. Volunteers raising awareness about depression and seasonal affective disorder were there to offer hugs.

Seven volunteers held out bowls of chocolate and wore signs around their necks offering free hugs at Zeus Digital Theaters on Friday, The News-Leader ( reported.

The volunteers were with a local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. They also handed out literature about mental illness. The annual event was timed to occur around Valentine’s Day.

Some onlookers declined to take part in the festivities, but there were many from the younger generation taking the group up on its offer.

``You just made my day!’’ exclaimed Kara Kirby, 12, after hurrying over to hug volunteer Judy Isak and get a ``warm fuzzy’’ — colorful mini pompoms. Her friends, 12-year-old Katie Cumming and 13-year-old Emily Baraclough followed suit with big smiles.

The group held a similar event last year at a Staunton mall but decided to find a busier venue this year.

Volunteer Henry Brennan made an oversized cardboard hand that read ``Go NAMI’’ and drew plenty of high-fives, especially from men.

A college student who also works as a peer recovery specialist at Western State Hospital, Brennan said he felt it was important to reach out to young men, who often find it difficult to admit they have a mental illness. Brennan was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when he was 18.

``I feel good when I can catch guys my age who are denying it, and I can let them know that I’ve experienced some of what they are going through,’’ Brennan said.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in any given year about one fourth of adults struggle with a diagnosable mental illness, while one in five children will have a debilitating mental disorder sometime in their lives.


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