Re-Enactors to Take on Vietnam War Vietnam: As Vets Age, It's Urgent to Honor Them

By Gathman, Dave | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), July 21, 2016 | Go to article overview

Re-Enactors to Take on Vietnam War Vietnam: As Vets Age, It's Urgent to Honor Them


Gathman, Dave, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Dave Gathman Daily Herald correspondent

For decades, history buffs have banded together, put on uniforms just like those worn by the Blue and Gray troops of 150 years ago, and re-enacted the battles of our Civil War.

Others have dressed as Yankee Doodles and British Redcoats to re-create the War for Independence. As have those posing as G.I. Joes or German Wehrmacht troops of the 1940s when Midway Village in Rockford holds its elaborate "World War II Days" every summer.

But the long, divisive war we fought in South Vietnam in the 1960s? That has not been the subject of any re-enactments in the Fox Valley. Until Saturday and Sunday, that is, when about 50 enthusiasts dressed up as Vietnam-era "grunts" will set up at Camp Big Timber near Elgin and invite visitors to watch them "Return to the A Shau Valley."

As well as showing visitors what camp life looked like, at noon and 3 p.m. each day the re-enactors will even square off in a mock battle against North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong soldiers.

Event spokesman Rick Pennington, who teaches social studies at Hampshire Middle School and lives in Marengo, said Vietnam re-enactments are rare, because while the American Revolution inspires us, the Civil War stirs us and World War II is seen as "the last good war," Vietnam remains a hot potato.

It caused angry division in America and resulted in 360,000 American casualties,

including at least 57,000 dead.

Unlike today, when even most critics of our wars respect the sacrifices and ordeals endured by our troops, the GIs coming home from Vietnam often were seen as baby killers, sometimes even spat upon by a largely unappreciative American public.

"These guys didn't get their ticker tape parade," Pennington said. "It's taken a long time for this country to heal."

The 34-year-old Elgin native describes himself as "a history geek," fascinated by his grandfather's tales of serving as an Army medic during World War II. Pennington said he was rejected for military service because of a physical condition. But as a young adult he met some World War II re-enactors and began collecting the uniforms, guns and gear needed to spend weekends as a 1940s soldier like his grandfather. When he met others interested in doing the same thing for Vietnam, he and 11 other guys from the suburbs formed the 2/327th Vietnam Re-Enactment Group.

"We had to decide what to call ourselves. We said, 'Of course we need to name it after Scott Adams' outfit,'" Pennington said. …

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