Ohio village stages WWII battle re-enactment aimed at educating public

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Sweating bullets beneath the blazing sun, Matthew Glover, 17, was gunning for the enemy.

"All our guys took hits," the Toledoan said yesterday afternoon, shortly after a swift skirmish with German soldiers near a quarry in the village of Whitehouse.

Matthew, who will graduate this week from Start High, has engaged in World War II battle re-enactments for nearly five years, fighting to make sure no one forgets the sacrifices made by America's Greatest Generation. "We like to keep history alive," said Matthew, a World War II buff.

He and dozens of other soldiers in uniform participated yesterday in a World War II re-enactment, hosted by the village of Whitehouse at a recreation area behind the Whitehouse Library.

Hundreds of area residents attended the event, which organizers said was the first of its kind in the village. The objective was to instruct the public about World War II through demonstrations of various weapons; displays of vehicles, and troop depiction of the war's combative encounters.

As he listened to the "pop, pop, pop" of rifles during a battle, 4-year-old Nick Hensley, perched atop the shoulders of his dad, said, "That's loud," then asked, "Are those real guns?"

His father, Todd Hensley of Whitehouse, peered up at his son and said, "Yes, they are real guns, but the guns aren't shooting real bullets."

Nick immediately looked relieved. "That's good," he said.

As the battle raged, American soldiers and several German soldiers were hit by a flurry of blanks, meaning that the "dead" lived to fight another day.

Who won?

"When we're doing this out in public, the Americans always win. It's politically correct," said Mark Pacholski of South Toledo, a member of the World War II Historical Re-enactment Society. He is the leader in this part of Ohio of the 5th Gebirgsjager, 2nd Kompanie, 100th Regiment of the World War II German Mountain Troops.

During some members-only re-enactments, the Germans often claim victory, he said. "We win because we have automatic weapons," said Mr. Pacholski as he stood in front of a World War II tent and behind a barbed-wire fence. Behind the fence was his display of artifacts, including a Luger pistol, an ice hammer, a machine pistol, field flask, mess kit, poncho, and steel helmet.

Some weapons at the site were the real deal; others were replicas. Re-enactors often carry both in their collections, but typically they don't like to get their authentic weapons dirty or scuffed during battles, he noted. Cost is one reason - a World War II automatic weapon can fetch $35,000 to $40,000, he said.

A German tank, however, can cost $330,000, and that's not for one in pristine condition. "For $330,000, you're going to have to do a lot of work on it," said Mr. Pacholski, who has been a World War II re-enactor for 22 years.

Mr. Pacholski, whose 16-year-old son, Erick, also participated in the event yesterday, is often asked why he portrays a German soldier. He's matter-of-fact with his answer. "You have to have both sides to fight," he said.

Elly Hulme of Bowling Green, who portrays a French Resistance fighter during re-enactments, said many women took part in World War II.

It was difficult for them, knowing if they helped to destroy a German train, for instance, Nazi soldiers would conduct "retribution killing," attacking a French village in revenge.

Miss Hulme demonstrated how to fire a British rifle she said was similar to those dropped by parachute and assembled on the ground during the war.

Near a display of several military vehicles, including a couple of Jeeps, Grace Elton, 7, wearing a camouflage cap, and her cousin Kaylee Kahl, 8, both of Whitehouse, plugged their ears to keep out the sound of rifle fire.

Grace is the daughter of Kelly and Bill Elton, who both served in the Army. Yesterday the family toured the re-enactment site, and today they will attend a Memorial Day service at a local cemetery. "We go every year, religiously, because those people fought and died for the freedoms we have today," Mrs. Elton said.

Grace said she liked coming to the re-enactment, which she described as a good learning experience. "I like it because it shows people how the Army used to be in the olden days," she said.

Directing the action in a nearby field were amateur filmmakers Brandon Wierman, 13, and Anthony Wright, 14, both of Maumee, who film the re-enactments and post the productions online.

This summer they will film their original works called The June of '45 and The Foreboding, the boys said. Anthony's cousin Patrick McCarty of Toledo assists with the production.

The World War II re-enactment was organized by Daryl Rodney of West Toledo, a barber in Whitehouse. He agreed to pull the troops together for the event at the request of the village.

"What we do is very historic and it draws a lot of interest from the public," said Mr. Rodney, who portrays a German elite soldier.

"It gives a good history lesson to the young ones who do not know what happened during the war or about the weapons used. It brings the war to their attention," he said. "We do it for our veterans. We do not want anybody to forget them."

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