LEWES — It’ll be bigger and better than ever.
That’s the plan of organizers of Delaware Defense Day — formerly Delaware Goes to War — which will return to Fort Miles and Cape Henlopen State Park following cancellations in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“And with this coming year, we are going to have even more for the public to see and do,” said Dr. Donald Hattier, a member of the Harbor Defenses of the Delaware Living History Association, which is among the participating groups.
The expanded event, set for 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 23, will again bring to life the world as it was along coastal Delaware in the World War II era, with vehicles, artifacts, displays, music and reenactments.
Now, there is even more.
“Delaware Goes to War was really focused on the kind of living history in World War II,” said Tyler Dreiblatt, interpretive programs manager for the Fort Miles Museum and Historical Area. “And while we are still definitely maintaining that focus, Delaware Defense Day allows us to kind of highlight other folks who have and continue to defend Delaware and the folks who live here. That’s why we are partnering with folks like the Delaware Emergency Management Agency, the Delaware State Police Museum and the Air Mobility Command Museum. We can highlight them and connect them a little bit.”
Organizers stress that plans for the event could change, given alterations in pandemic restrictions. However, approximately three months before showtime, all systems are go.
“We are planning to come back to the way we were in 2019 before we kind of had to take a pause,” said Mr. Dreiblatt. “If things change, we, of course, will stick to any COVID-related guidelines, and it will be a safe, fun time for everybody.”
The 2019 Delaware Goes to War event, the last one held at Fort Miles, featured about 100 living historians and over 30 vehicles.
Expectations this year are for upward of 35 vehicles, ranging from jeeps to the Hellcat, a massive M10 tank destroyer and other large vehicles.
From a military perspective, Delaware Defense Day will incorporate other wartime eras, with displays about the Korean, Vietnam and the Gulf wars.
Featured once again will be Bob Buker’s large memorabilia collection, which includes a complete field post office with some 1,000 letters. His display spans military and civilian life during WWII.
“Bob (Buker) knows his stuff. He is so knowledgeable about all of it,” Dr. Hattier said.
Sights and sounds will be front and center for spectators with:
• Two black powder-firing demonstrations of one of the 3-inch guns at Fort Miles, along with weapons-firing demonstrations.
• The WWIIunes, offering music from the wartime era.
• The Rehoboth Beach Concert Band.
• A reenactment of the surrender of German submarine U-858.
• The return of the motor pool.
The staged sub surrender, featuring HDDLHA chaplain Mike Hills as the lecturer, has evolved as a signature reenactment at previous Fort Miles events.
Also expected back are reenactors representing the Women’s Army Corps, as well as the Civil Air Patrol, which had a very active presence in the region during the early 1940s.
Reenactors also plan a uniform display, featuring the four major services and the different types of outfits worn in various theaters.
“What was worn in Europe was not worn in the South Pacific,” Dr. Hattier said.
Additionally, there are plans to possibly open a “mess hall” to be run by a local restaurateur.
Admission to Delaware Defense Day will be included in the entrance fee to Cape Henlopen State Park ($5 for Delaware vehicles and $10 for out-of-state cars).
Feedback from past events, including a smaller version staged in September 2021, has been positive, sometimes stirring memories of the past for attendees.
“We have people who come back after maybe five or 10 years, having not been (to) Fort Miles, and they say, ‘I remember I was here, and I saw the surrender ceremony during your event.’ Or ‘I saw an artillery demonstration,’” said Mr. Dreiblatt.
“It has really made an impact. We have, in fact, had some people attend and say they were actually stationed here at Fort Miles. Usually, it’s Cold War folks. I have not had the honor of meeting anybody who was stationed here during World War II. It’s really incredible when we can have them back to the place where they were stationed. That is always very powerful.”
Fort Miles is somewhat of a hidden gem of WWII history. The U.S. Army installation was the primary fort of the Harbor Defenses of the Delaware, built to defend the Delaware Bay and the Delaware River and protect domestic shipping from enemy fire between Cape May, New Jersey, and Cape Henlopen, particularly from the German surface fleet.
“There are so many folks who don’t realize all the wartime effort that went into this little resource in our backyard. We get a lot of really powerful connections there, as well,” said Mr. Dreiblatt.
History will show, however, that not one shot was fired in anger from the fort.
“But what we can say is a lot of these guys who were torpedoed on merchant ships … ended up being treated at Fort Miles, and a lot of the men who were originally stationed at Fort Miles went to fight in the Pacific theaters,” Mr. Dreiblatt said. “So while there wasn’t a shot fired here, they really did serve with honor.”
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