Interested in exploring the world of WWII living history, the Stevenson Public History program sponsored its first-ever camping trip as part of a weekend in the Gettysburg area. The event took place at Eisenhower Farm and involved several hundred living historians who represented over forty living history organizations devoted to exploring the experience of life during WWII.
Having arrived at the campground on Friday evening, we set-up our tents and went out to dinner. After dinner at a local restaurant, we walked around the town of Gettysburg taking in the local sights and looking for the best ice cream Gettysburg had to offer. A labor intensive job, we stopped at each ice cream store and subjected its products to a taste test before moving on to the next.
By the time we were at the fourth store, we realized we had better go back to the campground and sit in front of the fire. We were simply too full and too cold to continue. In our sleeping bags by 1 a.m., we were up five hours later trying to beat the crowd to a hot shower. After breakfast, we took a shuttle from the Gettysburg Visitor Center to Eisenhower Farm.
What an experience! We listened to talks given by the real veterans of WWII who have become famous in our culture because their lives have been portrayed in movies, TV series, and books. We spoke with Bill Guarnare of the 101st Airborne whose experiences were portrayed in Band of Brothers. We met fellow Marylander Guy Whidden who jumped with the 101st into Holland as part of Operation Market Garden.
We saw and learned about Germany’s top secret coding device the “Enigma” that was on display from another Maryland institution the National Cryptologic Museum located near the NSA headquarters. We then journeyed down to the encampment and met living historians portraying the lives of America, British, Polish, French, and German soldiers during that war. We met with women who were portraying the lives of nurses, USO girls, Rosie the Riveteers, WAACs, WAVES, SPARS, and WASPS. We met kids who portrayed the lives of youngsters doing scrap drives during the war. Last, but certainly not least, we saw enough canvas tents, transport vehicles, armored vehicles, weapons, and uniforms to outfit a division.
After dinner on Saturday night, we all went over to the Gettysburg National Military Park Visitors Center and attended their USO-style WWII dance. Incredible! You know that famous scene in Star Wars at the Mos Eisely “Creature” cantina where everything is just bizarre? That’s what it was like. Not only was everyone dressed in period clothing, but for the only time in our lives the SS mixed with US military women, French Resistance fighters smoked their Gauloises cigarettes while drinking Coke, and Polish armor officers danced with Chinese peasants. Pouring rain outside, we all stayed too long because, frankly, there was nothing else to do that would keep us as dry as we were.
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. We rolled up our sleeping bags, packed our tents and equipment, and arrived back on campus for a Sunday lunch.