Game Aims to Recreate Chaos of War

Article excerpt

Byline: MATT COOPER The Register-Guard

When it comes to war, you can take all the technology, the equipment and the boasts about superior firepower, wad it up and throw it out the window.

Give John Fernandes the soldier who follows orders in the face of chaos, the rank-and-file hero who stands his ground when his comrades have fallen.

That's the soldier whom Fernandes sees when he cries. It is also, paradoxically, the soldier who has given Fernandes some measure of relief.

For the past 20 years, Fernandes, a 53-year-old disabled veteran who lives in Eugene, has been a devoted student of the soldier's psyche. His work has culminated in, of all things, a war-simulation game.

He has written an intricate set of game rules by which war buffs can re-create battles from World War II. His rule book, now in distribution through Minnesota-based hobby manufacturer GHQ, is called "World War II Micro Armour: The Game."

You won't find the book on the best-seller list. But more than 600 copies have sold since June to enthusiasts who spend hours - sometimes days - re-creating famous battles with the roll of dice and the movement of tiny military figures across a makeshift battleground.

Most kids with toy soldiers decide victories and defeats largely on stubbornness - that is, who screams the loudest. But even at 12 years old, Fernandes and his pals played war by a set of rules, flipping playing cards and high card wins the battle.

It was later, as Fernandes came of age and joined the military, that he began to understand the human factor in the equation of war.

A Marine from 1976 to 1983, he said he served as an artillery instructor in California, a translator and interrogator of the Chinese and a peacekeeper in Beirut.

The pressure of military service was crippling, leaving Fernandes with post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder and other physical ailments. His time in Beirut was especially destructive, he said, leaving him with images of fallen friends that reduce him to tears when he reflects on their bravery.

In war, "it is the human factor that is the most important factor," said Fernandes, a man with lively eyes and a bearded face. "I can't read fiction - the characters don't have anything to win or lose.

"In history, when the Iron Brigade holds off the North Carolina division at the Battle of Gettysburg and suffers 85 percent casualties, this is something that ordinary human beings actually did. The psychology of men under fire became a matter of intense interest to me."

While researching World War II, Fernandes pored over the history books for years - stacks of them sat table-high on either side of him while he read. …