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Civilian and World Wars battle for attention in Lockport this weekend

In past years, when war reenactors began gathering at Dellwood Park in Lockport the weekend after Labor Day, it was not uncommon to see World War II actors interacting with people involved in the real war.

Even now, several people who have experienced a World War firsthand are expected to attend the annual Military History Weekend planned by the Lockport Township Park District for Saturday and Sunday.

“It’s cool to see a World War II veteran talking to a current veteran, how they share their stories and admire each other,” said Dave Herman, the Park District’s recreation manager. “About 10 years ago we had about 40 veterans from the Second World War. We’ll just take a few now.”

The phenomenon began with Civil War reenactments at least three decades ago, Herman said. Over the years, most re-enactors have been interested in World War II because of the “bigger toys – guns, tanks.” It went to World War II. It’s just more fun.”

Herman, who has been involved with the event for more than 20 years, said a few years ago the event became Military History Weekend by adding 20th-century battles. Approximately 500 reenactors from the Midwest (Michigan, Wisconsin and Indiana) are expected to attend the event, which is attended by approximately 4,000 people per day.

The event aims to attract the attention of veterans as well as spectators. “A big part of this is to show off and honor veterans,” Herman said, adding that the hospitality tent was his favorite part of the weekend.

Sponsored by AARP and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5788 in Lockport, the tent serves free food and beverages to approximately 500 veterans on Saturdays and Sundays from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. “We do a lot of things for them on the weekend. “We have special VIP seats for them at wars and we teach people about our history and the freedoms we have.”

Veterans gather at an accommodation tent at Dellwood Park in Lockport during Military History Weekend.  The tent welcomes all veterans with free food and drinks on Saturday and Sunday from 11:30am to 1:30pm.

Some of the battlefields have grandstand-style seats that offer views of the action. The park works well for simulated battles that usually last 20 to 30 minutes.

“We have the right terrain in our park,” said Herman. “There’s so much elevation change, a stream runs through it.”

He said World War II battles attract a lot of attention because of the large equipment and weapons, “but the Vietnam war is the most popular because there is only one (reenactment). “It’s done at dusk at 6:45 when the sun is setting, so it gives a different look.”

Pyrotechnics greatly contribute to the atmosphere of this battle. “They’re carrying out an attack like planes dropping a series of bombs,” Herman said. “It rises about 30 feet in the air.”

The Park District hired a pyrotechnician for the weekend. “For every war, there’s a firefighting event that simulates exploding mines, bombs, and stuff like that,” he said.

Battles do not depict a specific historical event. “Either the good guys win or the bad guys win. They kind of write the script and get together every morning,” Herman explained. “Every battle is different, but at the end of the day it showcases the equipment, strategies, and maneuvers they use in battles. The Civil War is pretty remarkable because it was pretty primitive back then.” . They lined up in a field. … World War II technology changed a lot.”

Union troops confront Confederates during a Civil War Days reenactment in Lockport in 2002.  The event is now known as Military History Weekend, as many re-enactors have turned to depicting World War II warriors.

A reenactor knows this technology firsthand. Rich Russo, who was born in Chicago and lived in Elk Grove Village before moving to Utah, has a German motorcycle called the DWK NZ350 that he has completely restored.

“It’s a pretty rare bike. I could only find 15 more in the US,” said Russo.

Russo has been doing re-enactments for nearly 40 years, although it started with the Civil War. He has been covering World War II for nearly 30 years and is on the Military History Weekend planning committee and helped transition the war to include other wars. He comes back every year to help manage it.

“Rich represents the German side of World War II. He’s the bad guy,” Herman joked.

“I had five uncles who fought on the U.S. side in World War II,” Russo said. “One of them picked up a German helmet when he landed on the Normandy beach. “I came into possession of this gun as a child when I was traveling around and serving in the military in the 1960s and ’70s.”

He was initially “a little apprehensive” about portraying an enemy soldier after starting out as a Civil War Union soldier, but realized that “basically no one had a problem with it.”

“We never tried to make these guys look like the Boy Scouts,” Russo said. “We’re telling history that these men fought for their country, but they fought for one of the worst regimes in the world.”

Reenactors portraying German soldiers prepare to fire mortars during a Military History Weekend reenactment at Dellwood Park, 199 E. Woods Drive in Lockport.  This year's event will take place in the park on Saturday from 09:30 to 21:00 and on Sunday from 09:30 to 17:00.

Russo enjoys the company of the re-enactor. “I’m an outdoor guy, so we’re going out these weekends and trying to live just like them.” He learned how to speak German military commands “to give orders to the men in the field.”

The fifth represents Kompaine GrossDeutschland (which means Greater Germany in German). “This particular division is considered an elite division in the German army. “This is the only place where men come from all over Germany,” Russo said. “We chose this unit to portray because they never fought the Americans. Historically, they were always fighting the Russians.”

Russo stated that his unit is trying to make the campsite look like it’s on the front lines in Russia. “If you come to our camp you will find live chickens because they will be making a living off the land,” he said. “We are trying to achieve a high level of detail.”

The largest number of re-enactors took part in World War II battles, about 300 to 400 people, he said.

“There will be German armored vehicles, American jeeps and trucks, and anti-tank guns. All guns are real guns firing blanks for all battles. The uniforms are all reproductions because the originals are obviously very collectible. “All field equipment is original.”

He said audiences appreciated getting a closer look at the battles and equipment. “They might have seen a tank in the museum, but here you are 10 feet away. You can see it, sit on it. A much more immersive experience. “When the guns are fired, the clashes continue until the crowd sits.”

In addition to touching the equipment, people “can also talk to the reenactors. One thing, they like to share their knowledge and what they’ve accumulated over the years as a hobby,” Russo said. “They tend to be very open to discussion, and that’s a topic that won’t be covered in the museum.”

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The animations are of interest to people of all ages, but there are some restrictions.

“In our hobby, you couldn’t go out in the field with a gun unless you were 18, but in the Civil War you could have 12, 14-year-old drummer kids,” Russo said. Some people portray civilians, such as the suffragettes of the early 1900s, and there are also units that portray medical personnel.

The weekend isn’t just about wars and bombs. “I describe it as trying to do something that is as interesting for my mom and grandma as it is for my dad and the kids,” Russo said.

Entertainment includes Sweet Reminder performing hits from the 1940s through the ’60s, the Fortunate Sons tribute band singing Creedence Clearwater, a USO-style show featuring the Silver Bullet tribute band, the Encore Concert Band, and a World War II maiden night. will include a living history demonstration. baseball team Rockford Peaches.

The park opens at 9.30 on Saturday and the day’s activities end with the USO show at 20.00. On Sunday, operating hours are from 09.30 to 17.00. Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for children 12 and under and anyone 55 and over. and veterans. They can be purchased in advance or at the door. Information available online. There is no admission fee after 18:45 on Saturday, so the USO show is free.

Attendees can bring coolers containing food as well as water and other non-alcoholic beverages, although there are seven vendors in the park. Eight-passenger golf carts will constantly shuttle people around the park. Parking is available at the baseball fields in the park.

Melinda Moore is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.

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