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Living History

The American Heritage Museum – Tank Demonstration Weekend

Over the last several years I have had the opportunity to attend a variety of military and “living history” museums. One of the former is the American Heritage Museum with one of the latter being the Massachusetts Military History Exposition. Both of these organizations are located in Massachusetts and each offer a unique experience in military history both static and living.

On Saturday the American Heritage Museum hosted a tank demonstration weekend.  Seeing the M4 Sherman, M24 Chaffee, M26 Pershing and others in action was truly a unique experience. As I’m currently reading Normandy ’44 by James Holland, I was imagining these tanks in great battalions doing what we only read about and seeing from film reels taken at the time. The event also featured two WWII veterans offering their firsthand experiences to attentive audiences.

German Panther tank

There was a moment when I was listening to the veterans experiences when several tanks were driving behind them in the near distance. It was in that moment, coupled with them talking about the sheer number of planes, tanks and soldiers involved in WWII, when you could almost visualize what it may have been like. Of course, I will never know what that experience was like. But that’s what makes these types of events so important — we experience, learn and never forget.

At the Military History Expo

On Sunday I attended the Military History Expo produced by the Massachusetts Military History Exposition. If memory serves, this was my first “living history” military museum that I attended.  Dan and Missy Eaton, who produce the event, always do a masterful job at incorporating a variety of experiences for the visitor.

When you first arrive you see the encampments featuring reenactors from various points in military history. From the American Revolution to WWII and beyond, the enthusiastic reenactors discuss the place in history they are representing and portraying.  Adding to the experience are the various events programmed throughout the day. This weekend, there were discussions about uniform styles, weapons demonstrations, artillery firing and ending with a WWII battle in the field.  There’s no question you arrive enthused, and leave having learned or experienced something new.

For me, I always find the “communications tent” a fascinating experience. Reading about the enormity of the Normandy landings (Operation Overlord) and learning how communications were built as the fronts advanced is nothing less, in my view, than a miracle of organization and determination.

It is through events like this where we learn what caused the conflicts that created such a history. They say that if we don’t learn from history, it has a habit of repeating itself. Sadly, that repeat came in February when Russia invaded Ukraine. While I theorized about just such a conflict in First Signal, I could not have imagined that in the 21st century there would not only be a war in eastern Europe, but one that has taken on the complexion of the atrocities we saw in WWII.

“Get it all on record now – get the films – get the witnesses -because somewhere down the road of history some bastard will get up and say that this never happened.”
― Dwight D. Eisenhower

Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force WWII 34th President of the United States

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