Every August, a little town in Ohio hosts the world’s biggest reenactment of the Normandy Landings. More than 2,000 armed and uniformed volunteers will be taking part in this year’s edition from August 15 through 17.
On the shores of Lake Erie, the sandy beach by the little town of Conneaut is somewhat similar to Omaha Beach. Wooden obstacles painted to look like concrete and steel, a bunker, sandbags, and a few stretches of camouflaged netting complete the illusion. It takes an army of 500 volunteers a whole week to convincingly disguise the beach and the adjacent park.
The paths in the park have been renamed “Victoria Lane,” “Route du Port,” and “Route de la Mer.” The goals on the soccer pitch and the picnic tables have been removed and replaced by the olive green-colored tents of the Allied camp and shelters for French Resistance fighters. The German garrison is established on the lawn near the parking lot between the “Route de Grandcamp” and the zone reserved for spectators, nicknamed “Caen.”
© Wayne Heim
Four planes, three landing craft, four amphibious vehicles, and almost 600 reenactors will take part in the reenactment of D-Day on “Omaha Beach” on Saturday, August 17, at 3 pm (local time). The other battles include the landing of the British forces and the French commandos, a clash between tanks in “Vierville-sur-Mer,” an assault on a German convoy by the Resistance, and a skirmish between U.S. and German soldiers followed by the liberation of a Norman farm.
Just Like in 1944
“This is the biggest World War II reenactment in the United States,” says Wayne Heim, one of the organizers. “It’s also the most historically accurate.” For three days, the 2,000 volunteer reenactors live just like in June 1944. They sleep in tents, take open-air showers, eat at the mess, and march in formation. Selfies, high-fives with friends, and interactions with the audience are naturally forbidden.
Whether they play U.S. paratroopers, German foot soldiers, medics, or Resistance fighters, each actor is obliged to respect a specific dress code. Any anachronistic equipment is banned. It would be unthinkable for actors to wear helmets from the Vietnam War, fire with (fake) rifles from 1945, or drink from plastic bottles. Moustaches are allowed, but beards, modern haircuts, and tattoos are not.
© Wayne Heim
“Actors really live in character,” says Wayne Heim. “They are not here to play around.” However, they are also not here play soldiers, but rather to perpetuate the memory of the D-Day soldiers. Around 150 World War II veterans will attend the event, and six among them will receive the Legion of Honor from the Consul of France in Chicago. “The reenactment of battles,” says Wayne Heim, “is just a small part of what we do.”
From August 15 through 17, 2019