Delaware Defense Day a historical view of World War II

By Glenn Rolfe
Posted 4/23/22

LEWES – If military history and life as it might have been in the final stages of World War II is your cup of tea, Fort Miles in Cape Henlopen State Park on Saturday was the place to …

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Delaware Defense Day a historical view of World War II

Posted

LEWES – If military history and life as it might have been in the final stages of World War II is your cup of tea, Fort Miles in Cape Henlopen State Park on Saturday was the place to be.

Firepower, manpower, womanpower and horsepower comprised the sights and sounds of the 2022 Delaware Defense Day, an event that attracted folks from Delaware and beyond for a day of demonstrations, interaction, historical information and education.

“Yes, we are re-enacting World War II but the main purpose of doing this is to educate what it was like at the time,” said Dr. Donald Hattier, sergeant major with 261st Coast Artillery Battery C re-enactment group.

The 261st was among the units under the presenting umbrella of the Harbor Defense of the Delaware Living History Association, which made its Delaware Defense Day return following cancellations in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A visiting contingent from Jenkintown, north of Philadelphia, hit the jackpot in their planned weekend at Cape Henlopen.

“We’re camping,” said Mia Woods. “We normally come down in April. We have nine boys with us and a couple girls. And we just got really lucky that we stumbled upon this. They love it. We’re having a blast.”

They visited the Fort Miles Historical Association’s bunker museum, experiencing the Oil Still Bleeds: Delaware’s Forgotten Heroes of Pearl Harbor exhibit featuring artifacts from the USS Arizona, the battleship sunk during the Japanese attack on Dec. 7, 1941.

“We’re learning a little bit about history, World War II. The bunker was open, and we saw the USS Arizona and learned about Pearl Harbor. We’re having a ball,” said Ms. Woods. “All the volunteers have just been telling us so much cool stuff. This is like very awesome, very cool!”

Table and booth exhibits manned by members of Air Mobility Command Museum drew plenty of attention. There, patrons could learn about the B3 Mae West Vest life preserver. Some took aim with unloaded weaponry.

“A part of what we do is not only telling the verbal story but also having the physical equipment to handle, as well. Which is why we put a lot of emphasis on dual table design,” said Camden resident Nick Saborio with the Air Mobility Command Museum. “I talk about the Mae West vest. I can hold this up and say, ‘Check this out.’” That has always been our big draw. Like now, people hear the story and look at the equipment and then they actually get to try it for themselves. Little kids, teenagers, adults, everybody is a big fan of it.”

Delaware Defense Day featured upward of 80 uniformed re-enactors and 20-plus vehicles, including numerous jeeps and other armored equipment.

Stationed in a main roadway at the fort was this year’s granddaddy - a massive M18 Hellcat tank destroyer owned by Miroslaw “Mike” Hrycak. It made the trek from near Littlestown, Pennsylvania.

“Mike (Mr. Hrycak) is incredibly generous in donating. Moving one of these guys is, well up in the figures. Even though we had donations, from Sussex County Council and other donations throughout the area, he is still making up a good chunk of it himself,” said Dr. Hattier.

On hoofs was a re-enacting Coast Guard mounted patrol, Sky Dancer with Sheila Gladfelter aboard, and Sturmisch, ridden by longtime re-enactor David Miller. They traveled all the way from Winchester, Virginia.

“We’re horse people. All the historical re-enacting and living history that we do is all centered on the horse. We do World War II German Army cavalry,” said Mr. Miller. “This is our first time out with this Coast Guard mounted beach patrol. We wanted to do a lot of research before came out here. This is a new impression for us. But this is the perfect venue for it.”

Dr. Hattier noted that Mr. Miller and Ms. Gladfelter purchased their Coast Guard uniforms specifically for this event. “Normally, they do German mounted artillery. This is to represent our own Coast Guard that was up here. It’s a great crowd pleaser,” Dr. Hattier said.

Also represented were the Women’s Army Corp (Auxiliary Territorial Service) and Civil Air Patrol, among others.

Inside one on the barracks was a special exhibit manned by the 69th Infantry re-enactment group, from Virginia. Re-enactor Bob Campbell, whose wife Diana Campbell portrayed a member of Auxiliary Territorial Service, noted the significance of the 69th Infantry, which captured the city of Leipzig and a week later, in late April 1945, made contact with Soviet armed forces at Torgau.

While the primary focus was on WWII, Saturday’s event also included post-war eras, Korea, Vietnam, and other conflicts.

The Hooked Up restaurant chain owned by Steve Hagan not only provided the mess hall grub but offered to donate labor, food and money made to re-enacting effort, Mr. Hattier said.

Formerly staged as Delaware Goes to War, Delaware Defense Day 2022 will go down as one of the most successful, Dr. Hattier said. Assisting in volunteer capacities were Junior ROTC programs from Sussex Central High School and Stephen Decatur High School, and members of Scout Troop 281 in Ocean View.

“My calculation is we have about $1.2 million in display items. We have a lot of great people here, a lot of wonderful displays,” said Dr. Hattier. “When you are re-enacting, everybody has a favorite thing. Mine is quarter-mastering. We people who like firing cannons. Other people like small arms. Some would rather be Coast Guard people. We welcome anybody who wants to participate and interpret – and that’s really what it is, is an interpretation – of what the time period was like.”