World (War II) comes to Conneaut, Part 3 of 3 parts

CONNEAUT — Two weeks ago, when Eye on Cleveland asked those coming to D-Day Ohio to share with us why they reenact, we soon became inundated with stories and details from more than a dozen military and civilian reenactors. We’ve learned that reenactors attending this event are traveling to Conneaut from more than 40 different states and over a dozen countries.

One of those who responded was Christine Hadden of Englewood, Oh. She points out that a main reason why so many reenactors, civilian and military, gather at Conneaut is to remember the sacrifices of those soldiers who began the liberation of Europe at Normandy on June 6, 1944.

“Conneaut also allows us to pay tribute to that very special generation and to all former/current members of our armed forces,” Hadden explains. “We can never thank those veterans and members of our military enough or repay them for what they do. History should never be forgotten.

Connie Larson and husband
Christine Hadden (left) and her husband

“D-Day Ohio is a very important tactile history lesson. For some WWII veterans, their last dying wish is to attend Conneaut,” she recalls. “One year, a WWII soldier who was in hospice came to the event with his own military escort. A lot of WWII veterans may not have not opened up about the horrors of war to their families, but as soon as they get around Conneaut re-enactors, the tears and stories flow.” (More about Hadden is below.)

Hadden is referring to U.S. Navy veteran Robert Covert. Harbor Light Hospice brought Mr. Covert, a U.S. Navy WWII veteran, to D-Day Ohio in 2015 as part of its Dare to Dream program. Here is a link to a video from Harbor Light, detailing his visit.      Robert Covert

A major part of D-Day Ohio’s mission is recognizing and honoring WWII veterans and celebrating their legacy. As part of that, living WWII and Korean Era veterans will be honored with special activities on Friday, August 16 and Saturday, August 17. Six WWII veterans who were part of the campaign to liberate France will be knighted as Chevaliers and presented with the French Legion d’honneur medal on Saturday in a ceremony beginning at 11:30. This is considered to be France’s highest honor.

Eric Montgomery and Christine Heim are among key volunteers who coordinate Veteran Recognition and the Veterans Hospitality Tent, mentioned in Part II of this series. University Hospitals will establish a mobile MASH-type unit on site to aid in any veteran emergencies and/or reenactors or civilian injuries. A mass of local help, including local sport teams, come to assist in setting up. And the Conneaut Township Fire Department fills dozens of water containers employed to secure the tent.

Others assisting with veteran recognition include Conneaut American Legion Post #151, Ann Wiley and other from New Leaf United Methodist Church, Pastor James Friend and others from Rock Christian Fellowship, and the Conneaut Dairy Queen. Bill Creed of the Gazette Newspapers and the AARP also assist with the WWII/Korean Era luncheon.

CIVILIAN REENACTORS A PLENTY

Hadden is the coordinator of The War At Home From Dayton, OH, portraying and educating what life was like at the “home front” during World War II. Involved in living histories and reenactments for more than 30 years, she ceased it for a period then began again after D-Day Ohio began.

“Conneaut allows me as a re-enactor to tell the story of just how much the U.S. population sacrificed … after December 7, 1941, everyday life in the U.S. was never the same,” she explains. “Food, gas, and clothing were rationed. Communities conducted scrap metal drives. To help win the war, women found employment as electricians, welders and riveters in defense plants. Women became more independent.” All of this, and more, is part of what Hadden tries to explain to those hearing her talk or visiting her tent at D-Day Ohio.

Another long-time reenactor who’ll be at D-Day Ohio is Stephanie Batroni Pitchers of Rockford, Ill., coordinator of the Allied Home Front Committee for this event. She presents what life was like for those serving in the American Red Cross Military Welfare Service. “These were the women and men both on the home front and overseas that provided service and camp clubs to our troops as well as other tasks like assisting with taxes, POW welfare, correspondence, and so much more,” she explains. “The Red Cross was unique in that the folks of the Military Welfare Corps were civilians in service of the military. So they not only had to be versed in the operations of the Red Cross but also had to know all the rules and regulations for the military divisions to which they were assigned.”

ste and don
Stephanie Pitchers with her husband Donald

At Conneaut, Stephanie will set up representation of a camp club with refreshments and activities in which all can partake. She has been conducting living history projects for decades, and has a family connection as well. “My great, great aunt was an Army nurse in France in WWI and served as a nurse at the VA in WWII. My great aunt was also one of the first officers of the Women’s Marine Corps in WWII,” she adds.

Stephanie says she became burned out after doing reenactments for nearly two decades in the U.S. and in Europe. She stopped doing it for years. But Conneaut got her re-engaged. “The staff and volunteers really go above and beyond to try to make everyone welcomed and comfortable. I can’t say enough good about the volunteers and local event staff.”

Donald Pitchers, Stephanie’s husband, is the Allied Vehicle Inspector for the event. A WII reenactor since 2008 and is a retired Air Force chief master sergeant, where he served in explosive ordinance disposal. He has been restoring old vehicles since the age of 14, and will be reviewing the dozens of vehicles arriving in Conneaut at D-Day Ohio for authenticity before they are permitted to be part of the reenactment activities there.

ENTERTAINMENT, MORALE BOOSTERS, AND MATRIMONY TOO

If you say the words World War II and Entertainment, the words Bob Hope and the USO immediately come to mind for most older Americans immediately. Jennelle Gilreath Owens, from the St. Louis area, presents the USO and a USO show as they actually happened during WWII. “I’ve been involved with D-Day Ohio for nine years now, beginning just by singing a few songs for the attending veterans. Now I’m in charge of all entertainment for the event. I educate the public on the history of the USO and camp shows that soldiers would have seen during the war, and perform as well,” she says.

jenn
Jennelle Gilreath Owens Photo credit: Matt Van Slyke

Jennelle also found love at Conneaut, as she met husband, Kevin Owens there. “We are one of many couples whose story starts with D-Day Ohio so this event holds a special place in my heart for several reasons,” she adds. Kevin Owens will also be there as part of the 2nd Rangers, D Company, along with other St. Louis-based military reenactors.

Heather Garrett of Sterling Heights, Mich. north of Detroit, is also attending D-Day Ohio with her husband. Like Jennelle, she participated in pin-up contests and later met and marrying her husband through WWII reenacting. She works as a human resources assistant with the Michigan Air National Guard. “The military life is what I know best, and it fuels my passion for re-creating our history,” she says.

In 2015, Heather became involved with a volunteer organization named “Pinups For Patriots” which organized fundraisers and presented veteran-centered events while members dressed in 40’s and 50’s styles. While she didn’t win, it set in motion the dream she’d had for many years of getting into the hobby by volunteering with the group.

heather and paul
Heather and Paul Garrett

At Conneaut, Heather will present Home Front impressions of women who welded, made munitions, and helped run the railroad trains. “It is so important to teach others about the amazing work women did during these times,” she explains. “The amount of hours, the intense labor required … it is simply amazing how these women stepped up and got the job done. Doing these impressions is important because it is a way to keep history alive. It’s a chance to educate others outside of reading a book, or relying solely on a High School History class. It brings history alive and makes it more real.”

Paul Garrett, Heather’s husband, will be on the military side of D-Day Ohio as part of the 45th Infantry Division. “We were at the same reenacting event in 2017, where we finally expressed our feelings for one another,” she recalls. “A little over a year later, we were married. Now we attend events together and it’s always a blast.”

There is a common misconception that civilian reenactors don’t invest as much time and finances into their portrayals than military. That’s not true. “A typical civilian reenactor can spend just as much as the military impressions and even more,” Stephanie says. “Casual day looks can run several hundred dollars and more glamorous looks can run way more. Civilian/home front stuff can and should be viewed as an investment just like other aspects of reenacting. Being educated about things can often allow people to buy items that retain value for selling off later if they get out of the hobby or upgrade pieces.”

GERMAN “REINFORCEMENTS” FROM FAR AWAY

Some reenactors are arriving in Northeast Ohio after spending a day or longer in the air, coming from far-flung places. Javier Ignacio Tapia Blomberg is one of them. a general counsel for a major international financial services firm, Blomberg is flying from Santiago, Chile to join the Wehrmacht on defending the beach in Conneaut.

javier.jpg
Javier Ignacio Tapia Blomberg

“For us WWII nuts living at the end of the world, the secondary role of reenactment — the first one being obviously to have fun — as an educational tool is paramount,” he says. “People in Chile are not as knowledgeable on the subject as a person in the U.S. So having the chance to ask, see and interact with WW2 in this way is something new…”

Blomberg began reenacting in 2014, and attended his first reenactment at D-Day Ohio in 2017. This will be his second visit. “We decided we had to return this year for the 75th anniversary of D-Day,” he adds. What a better way to crown this year than spending August in sunny Conneaut, surrounded by some of the best reenactors, and some of them friends, there are.

“We mostly work with museums or municipalities in order to make our displays available to the public,” he says. “We do have some private “tacticals” but given that there are no blank firing guns, and the number of reenacts is not that big, we usually get squad level maneuvers only, nothing larger.”

colin afrika
Colin Carmody, portraying a member of the famed Afrika Corps

Colin Carmody is flying even further to be at D-Day Ohio, from South Africa. “We have a very small community of reenactors, better characterized as like-minded individuals who enjoy collecting memorabilia and period weaponry,” he explains. “The small club I belong to is the most structured reenactment organisation in the country who take it seriously, but without veteran reenactors we must still rely on our own research rather than being able to ‘ask your group leader’ as one would often be told in online forums.”

Carmody developed and grew a Fallschirmjäger (paratrooper) impression. “I followed every Facebook group I could, and eventually started chatting to some of the regular posters. There I met Jon Allison who has been an inspiration and mentor from afar, patiently answering my ‘noob’ questions over the last few years,” he adds. “Allison’s generosity and hospitality is the reason I’m coming to D-Day this year.

“I’ve always had a dream to storm the beaches of Normandy,” Carmody adds. “I never thought that one day I’d be defending them with a a bunch of guys I can call ‘Bruder.’ For me this is an event of a lifetime, and I cannot wait to take part.”

…AND IF YOU ARE ATTENDING …

Be sure to schedule some time to visit the PX Store at D-Day Conneaut. Purchases there help support this free event. Imitating a practice of real-life military units, Eric Montgomery of the D-Day Ohio Committee began making an annual Challenge Coin for purchase, beginning in 2009. This year marks the 11th coin in the series, and it is titled “Peace and Remembrance.” It pays tribute to those who fell in battle in June 1944, and now lie in cemeteries at Normandy.

In addition to the Challenge Coin and other items, there is a unique “collect and fly” opportunity for children to purchase — a D-Day glider plane, just like the kind that baby boomers could buy when they were children.

There are also D-Day Conneaut commemorative T-shirts, posters and a patch. Wayne Heim and John Karapelou design materials such as these for the event every year.
“There is something for everyone at the PX, and it is a big part of how we are able to put on this event each year,” explains Heim, a medical illustrator and a member of D-Day Ohio’s Board of Directors. “It takes a lot of money to put this big of a show on. PX sales, corporate and personal donations, and people donating on site in the buckets all make this possible.”

The D-Day Museum, an The museum is located at 851 Harbor St., Conneaut, OH 44030 is also free and open to the public. D-Day Ohio operates the museum, where you can view displays featuring US armed forces in WWII, learn about the uniforms, weapons and gear that equipped our soldiers, sailors and airmen, explore the German forces through exhibits of uniforms and equipment, and embrace the homeland experience through displays and artifacts detailing the lives of those back home during WWII.

Finally, if you can’t attend D-Day Ohio this year, you can sense what D-Day was like in June 1944 by tuning in to Conneaut’s radio station WWOW AM. It is online via the world wide web at Link to WWOW The station will be playing radio shows which aired in the U.S. in 1944, interspersed with news account which appeared on the radio on June 6, 1944.

CAPTURED IN PHOTOS AND ON FILM TOO

Additionally, D-Day Ohio has a team of photographers canvassing the area capturing all the action. This years team will be a group of about 10 volunteers, collectively taking more than 50,000 photos over the three days.

“Many of the images are shot and ‘aged’ in a way to make them look just like they came from the 40’s. In the end, all the images that make the final cut are uploaded to our gallery online where people can view and purchase prints,” Heim says. “Besides giving viewers an opportunity to see things they may have missed, the sale of those timeless prints also help support the event.”

People and reenactors are not the only ones interested in coming to D-Day Conneaut.
Film and television producers choose D-Day Conneaut to film due to the authenticity and scope of the event. Over the years the event has entertained teams from the Discover Channel, National Geographic, Independent Film Makers, and numerous local and national television shows. This year event will have no less then four different filming crews on site capturing the action and stories of D-Day, reenactors, and veterans.

A note: Many thanks to more than 5,000 unique readers of http://www.eyeoncleveland.com over the summer. It’s now time for me to shift gears and prepare for the Fall 2019 academic semester. If you have a suggestion for a future story, e-mail to john.kerezy@tri-c.edu. Thanks and thanks for reading eyeoncleveland as well.

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