[March 26, 2020] It has been said that among the most important lessons of history is that we do not learn very much from the lessons of history. On July 3, 1990, I was standing at the Copse of Trees on the Gettysburg Historical Battlefield with several U.S. Army officers. We were part of a Staff Ride to learn more about what went on that faithful day, more than 125 years prior. From behind me rode a tall man, dressed as a Union Calvary Officer, one of many military reenactors I saw that day.
A few days ago, I received my April 2020 VFW Magazine. Ttoday, the April edition is not yet available online at https://www.vfw.org/media-and-events/vfw-magazine. One article sparked my imagination and remembrances that day in Gettysburg for me three decades ago. Titled “The Real Deal,” author David Sears helps paint a picture of military reenactors helping us understand our past.
“VFW members who participate in battle reenactments give the events valuable realism, say the organizers [of special military events]. While the veterans’ portrayals offer visitors a more authentic look at history, it also provides the vets a new perspective on their own war experiences.” – VFW Magazine, April 2020, page 14
Many of the veterans who participate in a variety of organizations that reenact battles, do so as a better way to understand their own war experiences. Some veterans have trouble transitioning between being in combat to civilian life. Others just love the excitement of dressing in a uniform from the past and being around others who share a common bond. What they all have in common is a desire to be a “living historian.”
Most common are reenactors from the U.S. Civil War and World War II. Perhaps they participate because of the importance of these wars. Or maybe they like to be part of the great struggles of generations past. The fact that each military conflict is different, many things remain the same throughout the history of warfare. Those similarities give perspective and comfort.
“We bring history alive and close up.” – Ron Bingham, U.S. Cavalry enthusiast
When military veterans are part of a reenactor group, it gives the reenactment authenticity. Those participating can show how a soldier, sailor, or Marine of that era really spoke; military terminology, buzzwords, slang, and cusswords, of course. Equipment and uniforms attract many, but it’s the knowledge of the events reenacted that truly sets these men and women apart from the classroom.