Sunday, January 15, 2012

It's the years....and the miles.

They say "You're only as old as you feel." Well, "they" must be taking something and I want to know where to get some 'cause today I feel like I'm "hit-by-a-bus" years old.

I had a feeling this day would come. Actually, I knew it would -- I just never thought it would be this soon. I'm only 40 for cripes sake! There are guys out there older than me who are humping gear through the woods and enjoying every second of it. Then again, if you're not used to doing it every day, it can be a LOT harder than people think.

Just because you've beaten Medal of Honor, Call of Duty, or Brothers in Arms doesn't make you a reenactor.

Yesterday was the annual "Battle of the Bulge" reenactment at Camp Clark outside of Nevada, Missouri. There were reenactors from all around the midwest and some from even further away there for a day of fun and excitement. Husband and I (along with Celeste since she goes everywhere with me) drove in the wee hours of the morning with our weapons packed, our uniforms on, and lots of militaria to sell after the battles. We saw people we'd not seen in a year (since the last battle there), some we'd not seen in many years, and made a lot of new friends as well. We met people doing impressions of GIs, Heer, Waffen-SS, Foreign-SS troops, Spanish Blue Division, Italian, British, and Soviet forces. There were a lot of semi-automatic weapons there but we were lucky to have a few fully-automatic rifles and some that had been converted to fire propane so they'd sound as an automatic weapon should. Even the Soviets brought a "flamethrower" which squirted water out the end -- making it easy to show what had been ignited and who would be affected by it.

Everyone gathered for the safety and authenticity inspection. We have to have them because you can never be too careful where firearms are concerned. They checked to make sure all of the pyrotechnics (dummy grenades, etc.) were safe and approved and also examined everyone's weapons and blanks to ensure that nothing prohibited makes it onto the field. I've had a lot of people over the years ask me if we use blanks when we do our battles. I tell them that we use blanks because it's easier to keep having battles and recruiting new members, even if blank rounds are "inauthentic." Sadly, the sarcasm often passes by them.

After the inspection, the OICs (Officers in Charge) were told to form-up their units and prepare to move to the first scenario's launch point. Husband and I portray 35th Infantry Division, HQ MP Platoon members. We started years ago (Husband in the early 1980s; me in the early 1990s) as infantry and then changed to military police. We often will add in military intelligence to our repertoire if the battle coordinators need more varied units to help flesh-out the scenarios they've written. I, being a second lieutenant, automatically became the leader for the third squad of the second company. We fell into ranks and started to march to the launch point.

There was a bit of snow on the ground but we marched along on the asphalt road at a fairly good pace. The Soviets enjoyed riding their bikes past us and ringing their bells in fun. We waved and teased them about how they would have to make motorcycle noises in order to intimidate the Germans. We watched many of the Germans being transported by truck to their areas and began to wish we'd had that luxury. We continued to march and march and march. The first company consisted mostly of younger (18-to-mid-20-year old) reenactors who are military cadets and do this on a daily basis. Some of the older guys attached to their company said "Heck with that!" and sauntered along at a pace more suited for them.

Our company passed the remnants of the first company and continued to march. Soon, we began to slow down. A very short time later, my squad was going even slower than the rest of the company. Sadly, my stride isn't as long as my male counterparts' and I was basically running compared to their walking. I kept wondering, "When are we going to get there?" Usually, we move-out into the woods and the battle will start fairly quickly. Not this day. We were informed by our OIC that we had AT LEAST another half-mile to march before we'd reach our staging area.

Maybe in tennis shoes or sneakers I can wander a half-mile down a paved road. When the paved road turns to rough gravel with snow, it gets harder. But I didn't have my comfy shoes. Regardless, I wasn't going to stop and let the guys down. If they could do it, I could too. Oh, and did I mention that the bitter air aggravated my asthma?

Finally, we made it to the staging area. Our OIC began to deploy the unit along the area where we were supposed to defend. My squad was the flank....the end....the last stand against where the Germans and their allies would be attacking. We were going to be the WWII version of the 20th Maine at Gettysburg. Standing on a ridge, waiting for the enemy, but with more ammunition and better firepower. I turned to issue deployment orders to my squad.

The next thing I remember is hearing a lot of loud bangs and then being dragged into a ditch. In a brief second, Husband had done a test-fire of his submachine gun to ensure he had the right blank adapter installed so the weapon would cycle correctly. However, he failed to follow a standard safety procedure of announcing "Fire in the hole!" before starting so that people in the vicinity would be prepared for sudden close firing. Because I had not heard the announcement, I hadn't prepared Celeste and didn't have a tight grip on her lead which was slung over my shoulder and across my chest. When the noise spooked her, she immediately began to pull me towards the closest ditch for safety. Her lead cinched-up and tightened around my neck and left shoulder and, being an 85-pound dog, I was quickly knocked off my feet.

Years ago I broke my right knee while I was in college. I won't go into the details here, but I landed squarely on that knee on the large chunks of gravel used to pave the road for military vehicles, not foot traffic. She continued to pull until I was off the road and I felt like an idiot because I thought for sure the rest of the guys would have thought I was just a klutz (which is true at times). I calmed her down, readjusted her collars and lead, and proceeded to yell loudly at Husband for not following protocol. Then, I tried to get up.

I got about halfway up on my feet before my knee began to scream and basically decided it was going to defect from the rest of my body. I wasn't going anywhere fast. Celeste helped me brace myself and I finally was up and moving. It wasn't pretty, but I was moving under my own power.

Since Husband is a sergeant in my unit, I told him to go give my deployment orders to the rest of the squad. They'd already left to deploy near the area I wanted them, but it's a hobby and I wasn't going to nitpick over where they were standing since it would be quite a while before the advancing troops would be near us. Then the OIC said that because Husband and I were MPs, we were to walk BACK towards the bridge we'd crossed a while ago and ensure that no one came around the flank to take the bridge.

So, we wandered our way back to the bridge and began to look at the terrain. A very large, very deep, and very icy creek ran under the bridge and no reenactor in their right mind would try to cross it. However, since we know a few that aren't in their right minds (including us, we began to think), we waited at the bridge. A little while later a large group of Boy Scouts approached and, being in-character, I stopped them to ask what they were doing in our area. I directed them to stay on the road until they reached the next intersection where the OIC could give them their directions of where they could observe the battle. I wish they'd have told me before the battle that we were going to have visitors -- I've had experiences at other reenactment where "touristas" just show-up to watch uninvited and usually end up putting themselves in danger. Yes, we use blanks but people CAN be injured or killed by them.

We waited and waited and could hear the battle beginning in the distance. We didn't have radio or messenger contact with the rest of the unit. Hours passed, and no one came near us. Soon, we realized that the rest of the unit had moved even farther away and we'd been forgotten. I watched my knee swell even more and finally sat on the side of the road and decided I wasn't going to march anywhere else. Fortunately, the WWII ambulance that was to ferry people back-and-forth to the aid station arrived. Husband and I decided to call it a day and went back to the main building.

It would have been nice to be in the thick of the battle. With an M1 Carbine and a submachine gun, we could have helped lay a nice covering fire as our units advanced. I'd already decided that when they got to the "town battle" (a small area with shipping containers that had holes cut for doors and windows for military training) that I wasn't going to put Celeste through the serious noise that would be caused there. I had earplugs; she did not, and until they invent some for dogs we'll just stay out of that area. It wasn't until after the entire scenario was over that we found out the bridge where we were sitting was a major objective. Regardless, I wasn't going to sit for almost 7 hours to wait for them to get to me.

When we arrived at the main building, we started unpacking the items we brought to sell. We made a fairly decent profit and even found a few items from other vendors that we wanted for ourselves. I hobbled into one of the latrines and changed out of my uniform. I got to see lots of new shades of black-and-blue as well as the cuts I didn't know I had on my knee. The blood had been absorbed by my long underwear, which is why I didn't see it through the wool pants I'd been wearing. I sat down and iced my knee for a while and chatted with other reenactors as they dropped-out early as well.

As we sat there waiting for the scenarios to end, Husband and I talked about possibly changing our unit's designation. Maybe we'll portray a quartermaster unit since we do better at selling stuff to the reenactors than in keeping up with them. We're not doing medical corps -- there are many VERY good medical reenacting units. Our fear is that we'd just get stuck with the biggest, laziest reenactors wanting us to hump their butts back to the HQ on a stretcher and that ain't happenin'! Maybe we'll consider doing ordinance since they wouldn't have to march into the field. Artillery and recon were discussed but they require vehicles and we've owned a MB Willys Jeep before and don't need another money pit. The 35th Division even had a CIC (Counter-intelligence Corps) detachment. We're not sure what in the world they would have done, but they would have been "in the rear with the gear."

Yes, we're getting too old to play this game. WWII reenacting is fast becoming a young-man/woman's hobby. Our days of marching through the woods, mud, sand, hills, valleys, and anything else they threw in front of us are slowly ebbing away. We'll keep at it as long as we can, but a smart person knows when defeat is creeping upon them.

Then again, we can always form the 35th Infantry Division Band.

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