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Published: November 27th 2013
Having spent some time planning visits with family and friends as well as allowing for some impromptu sibling time, I had a pretty full schedule for my three weeks in northern Illinois when I departed Springfield IL on Wednesday, September 18, 2013. With the exception of a 20-30 minute downpour on I-39 that reduced ALMOST everyone’s speed to 35-40 mph, the three-hour trip was uneventful. Welcome back to the Midwest!
Rockford, for all of its shortcomings, has an excellent park system and has numerous well-done festivals. Unfortunately, a couple of the better festivals - the Experimental Aircraft Association Fly-In and the On the Waterfront festival - have departed for whatever reason. I decided to check the events schedule and found that a World War II Reenactment would be held at Midway Village in Rockford during my visit.
The Midway Village Museum campus sits on a 137-acre site located near I-90 and merits a visit in its own right. The Main Museum Center and a Victorian-era Village are centrally located and within walking distance from each other. The Main Museum Center highlights local history with current exhibits entitled: Queen City of the Prairies, The Girls of Summer (the Rockford Peaches
professional softball team – 1943-54), The Missing Link: Socks, Monkeys and Rockford’s Industrial Past, and the Flight Gallery.
The Victorian Village is comprised of 26 historical buildings filled with artifacts of the era as well as several 19th
century gardens that depict life in Northern Illinois from 1890 to 1910. Guided tours are conducted by costumed interpreters from May through August with self-guided tours at other times. Historical buildings represented include a general store, police station, fire station, school house, hospital and barber shop.
The World War II Reenactment is much more than just a reenactment. A “Behind the Lines” tour on Friday evening finds tour guides taking visitors through the Village to get a preview of the weekend activities. Saturday finds the encampment areas open all day with two afternoon reenactments and a USO-style dance on Saturday evening. Sunday has the encampments open in the afternoon and one reenactment. I only took part in the Saturday daytime activities - it’s hard to allemande left to big band music without a partner!
I arrived mid-morning on Saturday and wandered through the encampments. A map of the event site was provided showcasing the battlefield and the various encampments
and attractions. Over 1000 re-enactors from 40 states characterizing soldiers of the United States, Great Britain, France, Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, Italy and Japan were positioned around the campus doing what soldiers do when unengaged – cleaning weapons, repairing equipment, cooking, improving emplacements AND talking to the kids (okay, the adults too). In addition to the encampments, several buildings in the Victorian Village housed displays and artifacts relevant to World War II.
Soon it was time to take the 70 to 80 vintage tanks, armored personnel carriers, half-tracks, jeeps, motorcycles and other 1940s era military vehicles to the battlefield. The battle to be staged, and therefore the outcome, was unknown to the emcee, but he was astutely aware of the vehicles and provided a running narrative of which vehicles were going where. The elaborate and realistic battle complete with sometimes startling pyrotechnic events was very interesting.
After the battle, I returned to the encampment and the Victorian Village. General Patton, as portrayed by Denny Hair of Hockley TX, recreated a couple of his most famous speeches. Hair, one of the country’s foremost experts on General Patton, was making his first appearance at the event. There also was a
re-creation of a daily briefing session like those that were provided to General Patton. Re-enactors also presented a special program on the Battle of the Bulge which showed the strategy and decision-making involved from the point of view of each side.
Authenticity is imperative and found many of the re-enactors eating ‘shit on a shingle’ (the era’s signature military issue food) prepared in an historically accurate full field kitchen. One re-enactor told me he didn’t come to Midway Village to participate in a live-action war game but 1) to honor the World War II veterans by conveying their stories and 2) to participate in a part of United States history.
The museum web site section “Our City, Our Story” has an interesting video short entitled “The Greatest, Thank You” (4:25), a video specifically showcasing the World War II Days event as seen by Rockford’s Sam Hiser, a member of the Tri-State Living History Association. I can’t get the video to boot from a hyperlink, but the video menu is at: http://ourcityourstory.com/allstories/
. Click the “WATCH” hyperlink below the description of the “The Greatest, Thank You” video and then click the “Play” icon.
I highly recommend the re-enactment for
Learning The Battle Plan
World War II Reenactment - Rockford IL
those with an interest in WW II and recommend Midway Village to those passing through Rockford. By the way, the re-enactment is held rain or shine.
In addition to the re-enactment and visits with family and friends (including a two-night visit with my cousin in Chicago), I attended a Handmade Musical Instrument Exhibition and a match hosted by the local women’s’ roller derby team, the Rockford Rage. I’ve seen the banked track competitions on television but have never attended one nor have I seen a flat track competition. One more thing to check off the proverbial bucket list!
Rockford, Illinois! What can I say? It was not my choice to be born there, but it was my choice to spend a good portion of my adult life there. It appears there are two things that keep people in Rockford – a job and family. Now that a good percentage of the jobs have emigrated to China, family is about all that keeps many people there. Indeed, that is what keeps me emulating a boomerang!
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