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Posted by John Thomas on Monday, 24 March 2014 in Uncategorized

  The 1st I.D. Reenactment Group attended the Old Florida Festival in Naples Florida from March 7th thru the 9th. In attendance at this event was Art Dershimer, Mike Hockleutner, Bill Wallin, Samantha Dittman, Connor Thomas, Hunter Lehr, and myself John Thomas.

  This was our third year in attendance to this event, and the events 25 year anniversary. The event is sponsored by the Collier County Museum and is truly one of the finest historical reenactment events in the country. The 1st I.D.R.G. is proud and honored to be considered for their choice to represent Florida's contribution to the WW2 period of history.

  The unit fielded quite a few reenactors at Naples, a lot of the old veterans along with the relatively new member, Sam, and a brand spanking new, fresh out of the wrapper Hunter Lehr. All of you readers are aware of the Wiilie and Joe type characters like myself, Art, Mike, Bill, Connor, Justin, and Justin (refer to our Facebook link for even more.) but I would like to take this opportunity to talk about Sam and Hunter.

  Sam came to us about a year ago. She is a college student and works at a number of jobs, including the SRQ airport. She is an accomplished equestrian and also has a deep interest in history. She fills a number of rolls in the 1st I.D.R.G including that of a resistance fighter, American Industry worker (Rosie), Pin Up Girl and any other historical role that is required of her. She is a hard worker, great with firearms, has a great sense of humor, and is a real asset to the unit.

  Hunter is our newest addition. He and his family expressed interest in Reenacting thru the fine Armed Forces Museum in Largo. I was contacted by the Museum staff and ultimately spoke with Hunter's mother. A meeting was arranged with Hunter, his father, and myself. We discussed the unit and what would be expected of Hunter. Hunter's father and mother were understandably cautious about who they should entrust their son too. It was ultimately decided to allow Hunter to go with us on this event to try things out. I assured both parents that I would watch out for their son and after this event he would have an idea of whether or not he wanted to proceed with the training to become a rifleman with the 1st I.D.R.G.

  As with all events, the last two weeks to 48 hours before the event are filled with preparation.  A new display board of the D-Day Invasion Beaches was built from wood, painted, and readied for display and briefings This board will be significant as this year marks the 70th Anniversary of the Normandy D-Day landings. A flag pole was constructed utilyzing the units new 48 star American flag. The flag pole was rigged with pully to allow for the raising and lowering of the flag. The wooden flag pole was stained in a matching color to the rest of the encampments tent pole woodwork. She was going to look beautiful. Bill and Mike and I ordered approximately $500 worth of blank ammunition. Weapons were cleaned and repaired. New web gear was purchased to outfit Mike and myself for a pair of new M1A1 Thompsons. (AWESOME!) And last but not least, the truck was brought down for a oil change. Good synthetic oil costs good money but "if the machine breaks down, we break down" so it was worth it.

  The Thursday before we set sail was rainy and windy....would the weather clear for the event? We were going to be on the road to Naples at 0500 on Friday morning. With all this "manpower" going south, we needed two vehicles so Art was driving his truck behind my truck and trailer. We were all up at approx. 0300 to get into uniforms and final loadout. We ran into a small delay but left the final rendezvous point (Mcdonalds at S.R.64) just before 0600.....typical Military operation, if something can go wrong, it will.

  The weather had cleared nicely and we arrived and began setting up. In a short period of time, the encampment was up and looking good. We spent Friday talking with folks associated with the Museum, Supporters of the event, and other Reenactors. I would like to take this time to complement and thank all those involved from the Museum staff and Supporters on down to the other reenactors as this is truly one of the finest historical events that I am aware of. It is enjoyed by everyone that attends it and we had many complements from visitors of how much they appreciated the Museum's sponsoring of the event.

  The real meat and potatoes of the trip was Saturday and Sunday, when they opened the gates and the Public came flooding in. thousands of visitors. We had many families and scores of veterans from all the way back to WW2 up to the current wars in the mid-east. Nothing beats the atmosphere  of this event and all the excitement that exists at it.

  We had many visitors. Some of the notable visitors included a gentleman from the Naples area whose father was a 1st I.D. from the D-DAY invasion. We heard of his love for his father thru his rememberances of the mans' deeds in WW2.  Tears came to his eyes when we told him that it was in honor of men like his father as to why we did what we did.

  Another notable visitor came from the opposite end of this spectrum. An older gentleman visited our display and then spoke to us with  a strong German accent. He also expressed thanks to us for keeping alive an American memory that meant everything to him. He then went on to explain that he was young boy in Germany in 1945 when the American Army was sweeping thru the country. He said that at this late stage of the war, everything in Germany had broken down: there was no food, everyday things that we take for granted did not exist. He remembers being told to resist the American invaders and catch and eat rats for food. And then, an angel in the form of an American tanker sitting in the commanders hatch of a Sherman tank rolled into his town. He said he will never forget the U.S. Soldier called to him over the sound of histanks  engine  as other Shermans continued to roll by and push thru the town. He overcame his fear of the armored beast and walked over to the tank. The soldier threw him a box of rations, smiled, told him to get out of the street, then rolled off. He said that he enjoyed the rations and that more U.S. Soldiers followed and ultimately helped re-build his community. He said that he realized since then that it was America that saved his country from destroying itself. Tears came to our eyes as he told  us this story, because itis in this spirit of American  beliefs that we do what we do.

  We don't do a lot of these events...and we receive many compliments from people who attend them for doing what we do and sometimes helping them remember slices of pie from their own past...but when you take into account all the stories we hear and good and bad memories that we share with is we who are grateful for being allowed to be part of these peoples days and lives.

  When the event ended and we packed up the trailer, we said our goodbyes in hopes that the Collier County system brings us back next year.

  See you next time, LT. Thomas.

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