Horses and a Huey may have drawn the most attention Saturday when Army Heritage Days returned to the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center this past weekend after a two-year hiatus, but veterans and reenactors alike hope the stores of those who served linger in the minds of visitors.
On one demonstration field, reenactors dressed in uniforms ranging from the Revolutionary War to World War I tended their horses between demonstrations of cavalry weapons. At the other field, a fairly constant stream of visitors trekked to the Liberty War Birds’ UH-1 (Huey) helicopter from the Vietnam War era to get a closer look at the iconic aircraft.
Visitors could also see modern battlefield equipment on display. Children crawled in and around a Pennsylvania National Guard Stryker Medical Evacuation Vehicle while current members of the military told them about the vehicle and the injured soldiers they transport in it.
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Tim Lehotsky, a World War II reenactor with Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion of the 506th Parachute Infantry Division, 101st Airborne, said events like Army Heritage Days are a good tool to connect the public with history and help them to understand that there are faces and stories behind what they read in history books.
“People don’t realize that when they read 7 December 1941 that there’s 2,500 families and names and stories that are all involved with those who were killed on that day,” he said.
Lehotsky’s group typically does airborne re-enactments, but over the weekend they represented the 10th Armored Cavalry that was with the 101st Airborne at Bastogne. They also set up a mechanics display to share the World War II experience, but the real goal was to connect the public with the men behind the stories.
One of those men, Joseph Slosarczyk, was a kind, gentle soul who served with HQ company and was killed in action in Normandy only a week after the D-Day invasion.
“The greatest generation were human beings like the rest of us. They fought for a greater ideal, but beneath that exterior they were human beings who had dreams and passions and hopes that they put on the back burner for four years in the name of a better world,” Lehotsky said.
Lou Frank used to be one of those reenactors telling the story of soldiers in World War II, but he decided a few years ago to tell his own story and the story of the men he served with in Vietnam. At a meet-and-greet session, Frank was among the men seated at tables with photos and mementos and who were willing to talk to visitors about their experiences.
In a photo dated 1968, Frank was in the driver’s seat of a military vehicle at a base in Vietnam. Facing it was a much more recent color photo of Frank in the driver’s seat of an identical vehicle at a car dealership. That truck became part of the living history display of a Vietnam-era fire base at the weekend event.
Frank, who served as a staff sergeant with the Air Force in Vietnam from February 1968 to May 1969, said he didn’t have the type of experience the public hears about. His war was one of making sure food, ammunition and supplies got to the Marines and soldiers on the battlefield.
“I remember those guys treating me like I was the best thing since sliced bread because they knew that if I was there they were going to get food and ammunition,” he said. “Even as a 19-year-old kid, I had the sense that this is important because people are depending on me.”
Some of the soldiers receiving those supplies were classmates from his Philadelphia-area high school. He pointed to a page in his three-ring binder where he listed them by the year of graduation with stars beside “his boys,” the boys he knew the best in school who, like him, went to Vietnam. They, however, didn’t return. His list took up roughly half a sheet of notebook paper.
As people leave events like Army Heritage Days, Frank hopes they have a greater respect for veterans.
“Veterans are good. Veterans are what keeps you doing what you’re doing. Without veterans, you’re not going to have that freedom,” he said.
Army Heritage Days will for the first time host a second weekend of events from Oct. 15 to Oct. 16 at AHEC off Soldiers Drive in Middlesex Township. The event is free and runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day.