LEWES — Military life as it was during World War II along coastal Delaware came to life Saturday through re-enactment, demonstration, and education during Delaware Defense Day at Fort Miles.
Reenactors from Harbor Defenses of the Delaware Living History Association, Air Mobility Command Museum and others shared information with visitors about Fort Miles, a fortress at Cape Henlopen State Park, and its historical attractions.
Members of Girl Scout Troop 966 in Silver Spring, Maryland biked upon the event by accident.
“We’re here for an annual trip to Cape Henlopen. We’re staying in the youth campsites of the state park,” said Jennifer Scope, Troop 966 troop leader. “We came across this on our bike ride. I said, ‘Girls, we’re stopping.’ They were like, ‘No.’ I said, ‘You never know what you’ll find.’ They took to it!”
Several scouts took aim with WWII model rifles at the Air Mobility Command Museum. There, visitors heard from Patrick O’Neill from the AMCM, Emily Malone, who represented WASPs (Women Airforce Service Pilots) and Nick Saborrio, representing the glider unit.
As a reenactor who plans to enter the U.S. Air Force after graduating this year from Padua Academy, Emily said as a Women Airforce Service Pilot she would be part of a “group of about 1,000 female civilian pilots who filled in the gaps made by male pilot shortages.
“While they were overseas flying combat missions, we were asked to do domestic ferrying. As part of Delaware history there was a unit of WASP up north of here at New Castle Air Base, which is now the airport. Our main job was to make sure we got planes from where they were manufactured to the bases where they needed to go,” the reenactor said.
“Again, with Dover history, if they needed bombers at Dover, I would be sent out to the Douglas factory in Oklahoma. I’d go out there, pay for my own transportation, as they only paid for the delivery. We were civilians and we were women — it was 1940,” Emily said. “We’d fly a twin-engine bomber back to Dover, and somehow get our way back up to New Castle and then wait for the next assignment.”
WASPs were disbanded in December 1944 before the war ended, Emily noted. Not until 1977 were WASPs granted veteran benefit recognition. Times have changed. Today, women can fly any type of military plane. “We’ve come a long way,” Emily said.
The Air Mobility Command Museum covers WWII to modern day history.
“Our museum is the only one that does AMC, which is the big transport airplanes — the tankers, the logistical aircraft,” Mr. O’Neill said.
Their mission Saturday was for “a little bit of outreach for the museum. But at the same time in the case of a living history team we have themed our display exclusively for Delaware Defense Day. That is why I am here representing the 4146th rocket test squadron, because they were assigned to Dover,” Mr. O’Neill said.
Tim Kuntz, a veteran living history reenactor with the Harbor Defense’s 261st Coast Artillery, posed a WWII history question to visitors.
“Where did they fight?” he asked.
Responses included France, Germany, Italy and islands in the Pacific.
“What if I told you they fought — right here,” Mr. Kuntz said. “Right off the coast there were German submarines sinking ships. Fifteen miles out straight off Rehoboth is the US destroyer Jacob Jones, which was sunk by a German submarine while the destroyer was trying to sink the sub. That’s how close the war came.”
Fort Miles, which Mr. Kuntz notes “never fired a shot in anger,” was the venue for the formal surrender of German submarine U-858 in May 1945.
“From the very beginning to the very end, the German submarines were a threat,” Mr. Kuntz said.
Previously, Delaware Defense Day had been staged in late April but was postponed this year until the fall due to COVID. While Saturday’s event was scaled down somewhat, plans for 2022 are to resume a spring event back at full-bore with more military vehicles and weaponry.
“This isn’t our usual thing where we man the barracks and all of that, but we have enough,” Mr. Kuntz said. “We’ve had a lot of good stuff here.”
On display for public viewing in the Fort Miles Museum was the Fort Miles Historical Association’s USS Arizona exhibit — a 640-pound piece of steel from the battleship sunk in the Dec. 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
The piece of the USS Arizona history joins a barrel from one of the 16-inch guns from the USS Missouri, also on display at Battery 519 Museum.