OLD BETHPAGE, N.Y. (AP) — Modern suburbia has rarely been mistaken for the French countryside of the 1940s, but that's exactly what organizers envision when dozens of World War II enthusiasts, armed with tanks and howitzers, invade a county park on Long Island for a weekend World War II re-enactment camp.
Modeled on the popular Civil War re-enactments that have taken place for decades, so-called living historians will focus on recalling some of the sacrifices soldiers and sailors made while fighting in World War II.
"This World War II encampment puts visitors in a virtual time machine that allows them to better understand the period of World War II, a conflict that still defines our world," Nassau County Executive Mangano said in a statement.
Participants strive for as much accuracy as possible while at the encampments, said Robert Scarabino, a heating and air conditioning contractor from East Rockaway, N.Y., who serves as a fictional Army captain while on "maneuvers." There are no cellphones permitted, of course, and even folks caught drinking out of flip-top cans get disciplined, since the cans didn't exist 70 years ago.
"It's all part of the commitment, right down to the rations we eat and the canteens we drink out of," Scarabino explained. He said some "soldiers" show up with loaves of French bread, chunks of salami, and fruits and vegetables. "This is what our troops had to eat when they were fighting in Europe, so this is what we eat today."
Scarabino explained participants — his son joins him on the weekend drills as a corporal — are motivated by their love of history and desire to share their knowledge with others, as well as deriving benefits as anyone would from social interactions with those of a like mind. "It's like joining any other club where people have something in common."
This weekend's encampment will take place at the Old Bethpage Restoration Village, a 209-acre facility that features houses and other structures meant to resemble a 19th century rural Long Island village. Scarabino said the re-enactors will muster on an open field that resembles a military parade ground, a short distance from the village.
"From a distance, it really looks a lot like a village in France or England might have looked in the 1940s," said Scarabino. "You could swear you were in Normandy. It's a perfect setting."
Although Nassau County is struggling to close growing budget deficits, and has been forced to lay off workers, it received a $25,000 donation last year from the History Channel for upkeep of the facility.
Approximately 1,000 people are expected to visit the encampment on Saturday and Sunday. In addition to the "troops," organizers are displaying a Sherman tank and a 155 mm "Long Tom" howitzer, among other armaments. Weather permitting, there are also expected to be flyovers from vintage aircraft supplied by the nearby American Airpower Museum in Farmingdale.
Jim Michaud, another organizer, said the goal is to educate younger generations about the contributions of men and women who became known as "the greatest generation."
"Visitors will explore the life and times of the average soldier, sailor or Marine as well as that of our allies," he said. "We hope to welcome many who want to see how our 'citizen soldiers' were equipped to defeat the Axis."
Admission is $10 for adults and $7 for children.