I’ll be damned (literally) if I’m gonna go off all morose and stuff. I’ve had this post knocking around the old brainpan for a few days, so here goes.
I’ve been watching a marathon of M*A*S*H from the weekend, and it has served to remind me of the humour and oddball happenings the military experience can bring. Yes, we were playing soldier, nobody shot at us with live ammo (except for a nearby shelling from 6″ guns at Fort McCoy in Wisconsin), and we were never at risk of any true harm – except being run over by the drunks of 2nd Panzer haring around in their halftrack and tank destroyer. But we did have that same sense of camaraderie and of the absurd found in M*A*S*H. Here’s a couple from one event. Call it “Magnetic Maladies and Vexed Veterans”.
It was a cold, wet, drizzly weekend in Valparaiso, Indiana fairgrounds. I was there as part of the German unit I re-enacted with, along with some American WW2 units and a smattering of various US military vehicles from other time periods. One was an M113, a Vietnam-era armoured personnel carrier. We, on the other hand – well, our particular unit was made up of not poor people, but guys who didn’t have a lot of spare cash. This was truest for our second-in-command, a kid in his early twenties. But Dave tried to make up for it in creative engineering. We couldn’t afford motor vehicles, so he researched for months, discovered the unit we represented used bicycles extensively, then started buying old bikes and parts and piecing them together until they looked virtually identical to the bikes used. He also fabricated various weapons, including a hand-held anti-tank mine which held onto tanks using magnets. (This is also important.) Dave was very proud of his new creation (justifiably so), and wanted to test it out on one of the vehicles present. He decided to “attack” the M113. Now, most of us knew that the M113 is made of aluminum. Dave didn’t, and though we tried to stop him, he charged off across the field toward his target. He “sneaked” up on it (everyone saw him, but humoured him), yanks the protective cover off the magnets on his “mine”, and sticks it up against the M113’s hull. The thing promptly falls off. Dave frowns, picks the mine up off the ground, and tries again. Thud. He tries one more time, then walks back to us, griping that his magnets aren’t strong enough to hold the mine to the M113. I finally manage to get through to him that the M113 is all aluminum – you know, NON-MAGNETIC. Dave did the perfect cartoon double-take, leaving us all doubled over in laughter. It finally sinks in, and thankfully, Dave saw the humour and laughed with us. Moral of the story? If you have something held on by magnets, make sure your target is STEEL.
The bathrooms at the fairground were in one big concrete blockhouse, one door for the men (both going in and out) and one for the ladies. I got done using the facilities (in full uniform), grabbed the door handle, and gently pulled the door open. Standing there was a WW2 veteran (as declared on his hat), rather startled by the appearance of a fully kitted-out German soldier. He scanned me from my hat to my boots and back up again, shook us head, and muttered “Boy, you look good enough to shoot!”. Since we strove for authenticity in our uniforms, I took this as a wonderful compliment, so I grinned broadly and said “Thank you, sir!” as he walked past me. He looked back over his shoulder, shook his head, and proceeded into the bathroom, while I headed back with a grin on my face. The poor guy never considered that declaring someone looking realistic enough to be shot would be taken as a compliment!
Maybe for my next post, I’ll tell y’all about the German vet who came to visit our camp, and his views on our bicycles – or maybe the time we froze to death in southern Indiana….