Honoring veterans the goal of
World War II reenactors
by Jim McCarty
group of World War II reenactors poses for a photo in front of the
Omar Bradley Memorial in Moberly.
books tell us that World War II ended in 1945. But for a growing number
of men and women the war lives on. They still hear the flat crack of an
M-1 Garand rifle. They know the angry growl of a tank in action. They
recognize the high-pitched whine of a jeep straining through the mud.
has more meaning when it is lived. And thats what World War II reenactors
like Tim and Elizabeth Sherrer of Columbia have in mind. when the two
don uniforms from the 1940s and take part in mock battles.
ago Tim started a unit of the U.S. Armys 84th Division nicknamed
The Railsplitters. This famous unit traces its heritage to Abraham Lincoln
and the Black Hawk Indian War of 1832. During World War II it fought in
the Battle of the Bulge and included such famous names as Malcom Forbes
and Henry Kissinger.
no stranger to reenacting nor to the military way of life. He teaches
military science at the University of Missouri-Columbia. Hes also
a major in the Army Reserves where he commands a real company of Railsplitters.
Of his hobby, he says, Basically, I am doing the same job I do in
the reserves except 50 years earlier.
was a natural progression for Tim, who built World War II models and collected
military equipment. He started out portraying an American soldier, then
switched to the German side. After many years he switched back to being
says she married into reenacting when she met Tim. Her impression
reenactor talk for the type of soldier they portray is a
Womens Army Corps soldier.
Scherrer's collection includes this Ford jeep and a Dodge weapons
carrier. Tim started The Railsplitters, a World War II reenactors
unit based in Columbia. Normally he wears the full uniform of a World
War II GI.
been a male-dominated hobby for some time, she says. Most
of the female reenactors come in as Army Nurse Corps, or a lot do American
Red Cross. I did a different route. My grandfather served in the Signal
Corps. To honor him I decided to do a WAC in the Signal Corps.
Elizabeth got a chance to portray a gunner on a Stuart tank, not the typical
role for a female soldier in World War II. It was real interesting
because I had never been in a tank. Its not very comfortable. You
are standing up with your back against this metal thing.
the Columbia-based Railsplitters are new on the reenacting scene, they
bring a lot of experience. Probably half my unit are burnt out Civil
War reenactors, says Tim. Theres a bigger variety in
this we can do Pacific Theater, Russian-front events. Ive
done a couple of D-Day events with real U.S. Navy landing craft.
portraying soldiers from a variety of units and even countries, World
War II reenactors can choose from a wealth of equipment to complete their
impression. They can also use vehicles like tanks, half tracks and the
inevitable jeeps, which Tim says are vital to the hobby.
sort of ties it all together, he says. Certainly the American
Army in WWII you cant really do anything accurate without having
two military vehicles, a jeep made by Ford and a Dodge WC-51 weapons carrier,
which he likens to a jeep on steroids. Both vehicles took
part in a recent Railsplitters event, a convoy the Scherrers hope to make
an annual event. Two World War II veterans rode in the convoy, including
Forrest Loveless of Mountain Grove. Forrest was in the infantry during
World War II. He recalls, We walked a lot more than we rode.
pause during a recent convoy from Columbia to Moberly.
the convoy the vehicles went to Columbias VA hospital to give rides
They had one gentleman there who hadnt been outside the hospital
in over a year, Elizabeth says. It really made us feel good
that we could do something that interested that person enough and really
showed that we cared for them.
to World War II reenactors and you will discover a common theme: Its
all about honoring the veterans of World War II, says Randall Palmer,
a Railsplitter who portrays a military policeman.
Elizabeth, most of the reenactors have relatives who fought in the war.
Any way I could honor him and remember him I will do it, she
says of her grandfather.
veterans provide a welcome source of information to the reenactors, who
strive for authenticity. Elizabeth says this research is part of the groups
and I have taken the approach that what we are trying to do is educate
the public on things that happened in World War II. You are trying to
reenact the experience but you are also trying to provide for younger
people who may not have a grandparent in the war with some idea what it
was like. The only way you can do that is through research.
assume an impression, or a character, for convoys and other events.
Some impressions, such as this depiction of Gen. Douglass MacArthur,
are more specific than others.
in the equipment used is stressed to varying degrees in the different
units. Says Tim: Certainly with this unit you have to do it right,
for a couple of reasons. Number one, its just incorrect not to and
number two, I think its just a disservice to the vets. If you are
going to honor these guys you need to do it right.
the Scherrers get e-mails from people all over the world who want information
on the real Railsplitters. Tims connections in the Army and the
research they have done help them answer questions.
War II reenacting is growing in popularity. Missouri has three other units
besides The Railsplitters, one based in Kansas City and two in St. Louis.
Tim says anyone interested in joining The Railsplitters is welcome to
want to talk to them and figure out who they are and their motivations.
If they are in it for the history aspect thats great. If they are
looking for live targets to shoot blanks at they need to play paintball.
Tim says World War reenactors arent interested in reliving World
War II. What they are after is getting a sense of what those who fought
in the war experienced.
one event you wont get it and the next event you get another piece
of it. But when youve done it for awhile you have a good concept
at least for what they were doing and the obstacles they faced.
contact Tim Scherrer call (573) 449-3677 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.