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WWII history repeats itself at park site

A special ceremony will celebrate the 56th anniversary of the end of the worldwide conflict. Expect to step back in time as re-enactors portray soldiers from the European Theater.

By JOY DAVIS-PLATT

© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 3, 2001


BUSHNELL -- Hundreds are expected to gather Saturday at the Dade Battlefield State Historic Site in Bushnell to remember the 56th anniversary of the end of World War II.

The fourth annual Commemorative Day features about 70 re-enactors portraying American, British, Russian and German soldiers as well as equipment, weapons, uniforms and vehicles from the era.

"Last year we had about 800 visitors, which is actually a pretty big deal for this small park," said park manager Barbara Roberts.

Roberts expects this year's crowd to be about the same size.

Though the event is entertaining, re-enactment coordinator Brian Kepner said the goal is to make people aware of the history and honor associated with WWII.

"One of the beautiful things about this is that there are a lot of surviving veterans you can get to talk about what they went through and learn about their experiences," said Kepner, a county planner for Columbia County. "They appreciate us honoring them and keeping history alive."

During the war, the historic site was used as an Army Air Corps training post, where soldiers learned Morse code and other radio skills, Kepner said.

Living history encampments with tents, vehicles and other period military equipment will give visitors a glimpse into the life of a soldier in the 1940s.

Re-enactors and vehicle collectors from around the state will participate in the event. Also, the Sumter County Veterans Service Office and local veterans groups will attend.

Many of the re-enactors portraying American troops are with the 3rd Infantry Re-enactors Division of the 15th Regiment. Other Allied troops will be represented by re-enactors portraying British, Russian, Canadian and French soldiers of the period.

In order to provide a full picture of WWII, Kepner said, some re-enactors will portray German soldiers. German re-enactors will represent the 43rd Pioneer Battalion of army engineers and also the Gross Deutschland Panzer Grenadier Division.

The German re-enactors represent only the common soldier who was drafted to fight in the military, said Kepner. No political views of the Third Reich are intended by the display.

Programs including uniform and weapons demonstrations are scheduled throughout the day. Re-enactors will also compete in a "most authentic GI and soldier contest."

Food and drink will be available, but Roberts said the site is a perfect location for a picnic.

"We had people come from far and wide," said Roberts, who worked at the admission gate at last year's event and met visitors from as far away as Fort Pierce and St. Petersburg. "People made it a point to come for the day."

The World War II Commemorative Day will be from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Dade Battlefield Historic Site. From Hernando County, take Interstate 75 north to Exit 63. Go east on County Road 476. The park is just west of U.S. 301 south of Bushnell. Admission is $2 per car. For information, call (352) 793-4781.

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