The largest D-Day reenactment in the United States draws thousands to the Ohio city
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CONNEAUT, OHIO – On the shores of Lake Erie, the roar of tanks and the pace of soldiers once again transformed Conneaut Township Park into the historic battlefields of Normandy, France.
The exhibit known as « D-Day Conneaut » is part of the largest annual World War II reenactment in the country.
The small lakeside community of Conneaut, Ohio, has hosted the reenactment nearly every year since 1999.
“People bring their best displays and their best artifacts to show to the public and they are used in context. These are things you would normally see behind glass, but here you can touch history,” Betsy Bashore said. , CEO of D-Day. Organization of Ohio.
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Event organizers told Fox News that 1,400 « soldiers » were invited to participate in the re-enactment and that 12,000 spectators were expected each day Friday and Saturday.
“We have a group of historians who are steeped in knowledge and people who can tell you about the different roles people served in, including the Women’s Army Corps,” Bashore said. « We need this next generation to remember these events because at some point we won’t have any World War II veterans. »
Every day, re-enactors from across the United States and around the world present living history exhibits that include detailed recreations of the home front, Allied and Axis camps, and battles from the war.
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The largest of these battles includes a nearly hour-long re-enactment of D-Day, the operation in which Allied forces launched the largest naval invasion in history, storming the beaches of Normandy in Nazi-occupied France on June 6, 1944.
« Uniforms and equipment have changed, but what hasn’t changed is the importance of service to your country, » said Nick Rhodes, re-enactor and member of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. United.
Longtime re-enactor Craig Rader told Fox News that his family, including his girlfriend and young son, and his group of friends have participated in D-Day Conneaut for years.
Over the years, Rader said he even repaired a 1943 military Jeep to bring to reenactment. As part of his period uniform, he explained that he wore his grandfather’s crests to honor his service.
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“My grandfather was deputy, 3rd duty command at Fort Meade in Maryland, and I did a lot of research on his story,” Rader said. « I love doing this for veterans, bringing the public in and showing them what they would have been through…that’s how I think we can honor them.
This annual tribute to the sacrifices of the « greatest generation » comes as first-hand memories of the war continue to fade.
Of the 16 million US service members who fought in World War II, the US Department of Veterans Affairs expects less than 170,000 to be alive by September 2022.
Nonetheless, veterans like George Coler say events like D-Day Conneaut help preserve the legacy of those who fought in this great conflict.
« I’m proud to see some of these youngsters, I couldn’t go back there at my age, but that doesn’t mean I can give up, » Coler said.
Coler, 95, told Fox News he found a way to enlist in the Navy when he was just 16. He served on a Navy munitions ship from 1944 until the end of the war and said he had come to D-Day Conneaut in recent years to encourage others to hold on to history.
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“I feel like I was helpful,” Coler joked. « To defend your country, you do what you are told the best you can do because I was born free, and I will die free or die defending. »