Honoring history

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Chip Dobson of Mobile and Jerry English of Lutz, Fla., were part of a convoy that stopped for a break on Saturday.

Chip Dobson of Mobile and Jerry English of Lutz, Fla., were part of a convoy that stopped for a break on Saturday.

The green tents dotted the pond side as soldiers milled about the field. Up ahead, an Army jeep bounced over terraces, followed by others like ants in a row. As the convoy came to a stop, occupants bounded out, rifles in hand and ready for their orders.

That was the scene Saturday as Operation Cobra weekend held its seventh fall World War II re-enactment at the Lockhart property owned by military equipment enthusiast – and now reality TV star – Ron Hargrove.

Many might remember Hargrove’s appearance in April on the Discovery Channel’s “Sons of Guns,” when he and son, Chase, showcased their 1944 M36 Tank Destroyer. The father-son quest to obtain and install a breech ring needed to fire the tank’s 90-mm cannon was highlighted on the show.

That tank, now fully operational, was one of the featured pieces of equipment of the three-day event named for the offensive launched by the First United States Army seven weeks after the D-Day landings, during the Normandy Campaign of World War II.

This past weekend, some 230 participants experienced life as it was during the war – complete with freezing temperatures and brotherly camaraderie – and were left with an amazing story to tell.

“We’ve been doing this since 2006,” Hargrove said. “Once I started collecting, I wanted to put the pieces I had to use, not just show it. It kind of grew from there. There wasn’t another event like this in the region. We do two a year – a Western front event in the fall and an Eastern front event in the spring.”

Hargrove said the event is a “true experience” for participants.

“We strive to make everything totally period – really try – to make it look exactly like it would have in 1944,” he said. “This is not a live fire event, but we do use the guns, the trucks, the tanks and even aircraft in simulated combat.
“It is a true experience,” he said.

Participants flock to the small south Alabama community from all parts of the U.S. to portray all parts of the initiative. A Murfreesboro, Tenn., father and son, Steve and Rob Effler, made their eighth trip, while Gib Bucksbece of New York took the opportunity to “escape from real life.”

“For me, it’s an opportunity to recreate history and honor the veterans of WWII,” Steve Effler said. “We get to experience only a few of the sacrifices they made. That generation is dying, and we’re here to do our part to preserve history.

“Plus, it’s really fun,” the younger Effler said.

“You do it one time, and you’re hooked,” Bucksbece said of the experience.

Bill Zukauskas said for him, it was an opportunity to honor his father’s memory.

“He was at Pearl Harbor and landed on Omaha Beach,” Zukauskas said. “By me being here today, I can get a feel for what he had to deal with – albeit on a smaller basis. Plus, I love seeing history come alive.”

And to record that living history lesson, a film crew from the University of Miami visited the site to record footage for a documentary project, Hargrove said.

“There mission was to focus on how re-enacting is an integral part of preserving history, which is the whole purpose behind the event,” he said.

Hargove said he and others participate in living history displays, air shows and special events using re-enactors and equipment; however, this weekend’s show was a private one.

“We don’t mind if people watch from the road, but this was something for the participants, a fun day for the hobby,” he said. “Even though it’s choreographed, it’s to our benefit, not for those who are watching.”