WALKER — Artillery blasts and gunshots rang through Sidney Hutchinson Memorial Park on Saturday as hundreds of people watched Allied and Axis forces stage a World War II battle re-enactment.
Tom O’Brien, commander of the Schnellen Truppen Axis force, 34, got involved in re-enacting at 12 and still loves doing it, he said.
He and event organizer Robert Reynolds wanted to do a World War II re-enactment locally to teach people about the war.
“We have always had to travel to a different state,” because there were never any local re-enactments, O’Brien said.
Brandon Deshotel, re-enactment coordinator and a part of the Allied forces during the battle, said the participants wanted to pay tribute to the veterans and soldiers who fought in WWII and teach younger generations about life during the war.
“You get a good feeling doing this and showing others what the war was like,” Deshotel said.
He said they held the re-enactment for entertainment but also to show spectators the tactics used by both sides.
Deshotel said after many emails and phone calls, about 70 people from Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Alabama showed up to re-enact the battle.
Isaiah Phillip, 17, came from the Houston area to play an Axis soldier.
“I am a history buff and love doing these kinds of things,” Phillip said. “I am going to the University of Houston next year to become a history major and to one day become a history professor so I can teach students about things like this.”
Spectator Angie Fruge brought her son to watch the re-enactment, but even she was amazed.
Fruge said she was in tears while the re-enactment was going on and had “overlooked World War II before this.”
Her son, Jason, quickly ran onto the battlefield once the battle was over to collect all of the empty “blank” shells that were fired during the reenactment.
“I got 28 of them,” he exclaimed proudly.
Veterans of WWII and other wars were available for conversations with visitors.
WWII veteran, Robert Lyle, 87, of Baton Rouge, served in the U.S. Marines Corps from 1943 to 1946.
Lyle joined the military after one year of college and earned the rank of corporal.
“I was just a stupid, 18-year-old boy when I joined, but I used my training to protect myself,” Lyle said. Lyle fought in the Battle of Peleliu in 1944 as a forward observer for the artillery.
“I was wounded the first day we were there,” Lyle said. He said he pleaded with doctors and officers until they allowed him to rejoin his battalion and continue fighting.
After Peleliu, Lyle and the rest of the 1st Marine Division fought in the Battle of Okinawa.
Lyle received the Purple Heart for getting hit in the arm with artillery shrapnel during the Battle of Peleliu.
“The colonel just handed it to me,” Lyle said. “It didn’t mean much to me back then, but looking back on it now, it does.”
Lyle added that events honoring veterans, helps him remember his time in the Marines and helps him feel appreciated.
Another WWII veteran, Vera Nuschler, 88, also served in the U.S. Marines.
Nuschler was so eager to join when she heard that a woman’s division had started, that she forged her documents to say that she was two years older than she actually was.
“Because of my real age, I was too young to join, but I just couldn’t wait another two years,” Nuschler said.
Her proudest moment came 40 years after she served, when she learned that many of the men that she issued radio equipment to were the Navaho Indians that were the famous “code talkers.”
“I am very proud to have been a part of it, and I would instantly do it again if I could,” Nuschler said.
Nuschler said she loved watching this event happen because people need to learn from these experiences.
“Peace and love need to be emphasized here,” Nuschler said.
Anna Sanders, a veteran who served from 1969-1973 is the president of the Women Veterans of Louisiana. She said the event is a chance to honor women who served.
“A lot of people didn’t even know women served during World War II, so our organization and this event will help them realize that they did,” Sanders said.
Lynn King Sr., who is the chairman and founder of the Livingston Parish Veterans Association, said that he the other members love to provide veterans with any help they need throughout the year.
“It’s just an unbelievable experience to give back to our veterans, and that is the whole purpose of this event,” King said.
Keaton Boudreaux, 9, of Denham Springs, was disappointed he could not participate in the re-enactment but was able to try on a WWII uniform, hold a rifle and walk around, exploring the Axis and Allied encampments.
His mother, Lisa Boudreaux, said the event was a fun outing for the family and “a first-hand educational experience that can’t be taught in school.”
This was the first year this event was held, but Reynolds hopes for it to continue for many years to come.
“The way this event went is still so surreal to me,” Reynolds said. “The re-enactment and the event as a whole is not just about guys who shot at each other, it means so much more.”