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.
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.
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
Ever since I was a kid I’ve been fascinated with flight. Growing up in the 70s the Boeing 747 and Concorde were all the rage. But my first glimpse of the United States military came from the 1980 film The Final Countdown starring Kirk Douglas. That film was a brilliant combination of a narrative science fiction drama with the U.S. Navy and Air Force demonstrating real world capabilities. With this interest you can well imagine my excitement when I learned the Westfield International Air Show was returning to Massachusetts.
From the “static” display of a C-5 Galaxy to the F-16 U.S.A.F. Thunderbirds, the air show programmers really outdid themselves this year. The show was appropriately titled “A Century of Airpower” as it featured such planes as a restored Douglas C-47 and B-25 bomber. In fact there was a whole cadre of planes from World War II.
What was particularly moving for me was watching the C-47 perform the same mission it did 73 years ago when it dropped troops in the invasion of Normandy. Watching this reenactment I can only imagine what it was like during the height of the war itself. It’s almost impossible to comprehend the sheer bravery of everyone involved in that mission.
But mission is what the United States military does better than any nation on this planet. One only has to attend one of these air shows to see the demonstration of these great aircraft and the men and women that make it all possible.
Yes, as an American, there is a great sense of pride seeing this all in action. But to be honest, it’s also about national and world security. Sure that last sentence may sound a bit over the top, but there needs to be a military superpower to insure that such global travesties like World War II never happen again or at minimum are contained. As President George H. W. Bush would ask when our security was threatened, “Where are our aircraft carriers?”
With a reported 50,000+ people attending over a two day period, of course I had to know someone at the show. In the early morning hours on Sunday I ran into Monty Lyons. Monty was featured in both Justice Is Mind and Serpentine: The Short Program. Great seeing you Monty!
If you haven’t attended an air show I encourage you to do so. We see and hear so much about what the military does but don’t generally have the opportunity to see it up close in such a setting. Of course the actual air show itself is something to see, but it’s the static displays where you can really learn and experience something new. From lectures on their technical capabilities to what they do on missions. Yes, some of this research has wound up in my screenplays such as First World and SOS United States.
In summary a special thanks to the 104th Fighter Wing and organizers of the Westfield International Airshow for another spectacular event. But more importantly it’s to the men and women that serve in our armed forces, the veterans and those that have made the ultimate sacrifice, that have protected this nation and our way of live from its inception. Without them there is no United States.