In September, 1944 Allied forces had advanced in Europe and Operation Market Garden was underway to liberate Holland. In September 2016 a small town in Pennsylvania stepped back in time and transformed into a German Occupied Dutch Village, and staged one of the largest most amazing authentic historical reenactments ever seen.
This event was part of a multi-event historical program in conjunction with the National Park Service, the Eisenhower National Historical Site, the New Oxford Historical Society and more than 40 historical organizations throughout the United States.
Covering the event, I arrived early at 7 AM, the town was already shutting down for the event. Members of the Civil Air Patrol directed traffic along with Pennsylvania State Police and local police. As I rolled into the Railroad Station, the station had already been occupied by the German Army participants. Tents were set up, German military vehicles and cannons, machine guns, German soldiers on motorcycles guarding street corners. I parked and reported to my unit commander, Hauptmann Judson Spangler who had me kitted out in an authentic “fallschirmjäger” (Elite Paratroopers) of the Edelweiss. Weighed down with equipment, ammo belts, a 10lb steel helmet I fell into the ranks and marched into the town with my division led by Hauptmann Spangler.
We spent the first part of morning merely occupying the center of town and harassing authentic looking Dutch civilians dressed in authentic period clothing. Soon however the familiar sound of gunfire began moving closer as allied forces battled our forces on the outskirts of town. Although we all knew this was merely a reenactment the tension built as allied forces got closer, and the gunfire grew louder. Within an hour the gunfire was all around us, louder than anything I’d ever heard. Soon there was commotion and shouting, as soldiers ran in all directions taking up positions, and blocking entrances to streets.
Then the MG42’s positioned at the intersects of the streets opened up, and loud isn’t the word to describe them. I’ve heard them in movies but never in person, and you’ve got to hear one to believe it. Firing at 1200 to 1500 rounds per minute, the sound is like a buzz saw, a really loud, ear shattering buzz saw. When the MG42’s opened up we knew the enemy was on us, and I moved out of the center out to the streets to film (see our website for clips) and to see if I could get a glimpse of the encroaching enemy. Being reminded to keep my head down so I wasn’t spotted and labeled dead, I peered around the corner to see a small team of GI’s armed with M1 Garand’s in covering style formation, guns pointed in all directions checking the backs of each other. The MG42 screamed mercilessly holding the soldiers back, the ack ack cannon firing endlessly with its loud “pow pow” firing down the street line. But it wasn’t stopping the advance as a MP Jeep with Armor shielding and a 50 caliber along with armored vehicles rolled forward firing as it went. It was clear the end was near.
One group of advancing GI’s got cornered by our SS troopers and brought captive to the storefront walkway at the center of town. I had photographed one of the captured GI’s who looked and acted the part of the defiant American prisoner. As panic began setting in among the Germans a scuffle ensued with the prisoners, one temporarily gaining control over a guards MP40, and the trooper I’d photographed ran. The other GI’s shouted “no no” but a German SS troop shot him in the back, and I watched as he fell realistically to the ground. Moments later the shouts of “Cease Fire” were heard and like that it was over. The Germans had been captured and the town liberated by the victorious allies.
After the battle I wandered through the halftracks and armored vehicles meeting with the reenactors, both Americans, Canadians and British, all wearing authentic uniforms. Many were either veterans or active duty US Military. There was a WWII vet who they helped onto an Armored vehicle, and even a soldier in our division who had escaped in the 1950s from behind the Iron Curtain to America. I’ll never forget when finally, we all stood hands over hearts or saluting the US Flag in the center of town after the battle as they played our National Anthem. I felt a little odd doing so in a German Paratroopers uniform, but it was all for a good cause. So that we’d remember the struggles of our fathers in stopping the spread of fascism in Europe and the sacrifices they made. It may not have been a real battle, but it definitely helped me appreciate the intensity of those battles I have only heretofore read about or seen in movies and war films, and it was an experience I will never forget.