Delaware Goes to War brings military history to life


The historic surrender of German submarine U-858 will be re-staged at Delaware Goes to War. (Submitted photo)

LEWES — Historic Fort Miles at scenic Cape Henlopen State Park will be bustling with activity this Saturday, April 28.

Cannon-fire will echo along the coast and weaponry, vehicles, re-enactors and numerous demonstrations and displays will team to turn the clock back to World War II during Delaware Goes to War.

The event, staged by the Harbor Defenses of the Delaware Living History Association in conjunction with Delaware State Parks, will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Standard state park admission is $5. Bunker tours of the Fort Miles Museum are an additional $5.

This year’s themed emphasis: America’s home front.

One huge display owned by Art Bucker is being trucked from Pennsylvania. It will feature everything from soup to nuts, including old records, record players, baseball gloves, cooking gardens, paperback books and much more.

“He has an outstanding collection of stuff that is unbelievable,” said Dr. Donald Hattier, staff sergeant with the Harbor Defenses. “It’s all 1939–45. He has been with us before, and to me this our big advertising thing. Mostly people come, and they take a look at troops, but this year we’re trying to emphasize the home front as we are anything else. This fits the bill perfectly.”

A Delaware Goes to War tradition, the staging surrender of German submarine U-858 will be held. However, there will be a new group of German re-enactors.

Because the German Grossdeutschland living history group is unable to attend due their big event in early May, organizers have enlisted the services of scouts from Boy Scout Troop 186 in Milford.

“You can’t have a Delaware Goes to War event without that,” said Dr. Hattier. “Some of the guys we’ve drafted to become Germans. I need Germans to surrender. Involving the Scout troop is going to be fun. A lot of the kids were highly motivated.”

Mike Hills, chaplain for the Harbor Defenses living history group, will deliver the speech for the surrender of U-858 — the first German warship to surrender to U.S. forces and the first enemy vessel to surrender in U.S. waters since the War of 1812 with the British.

Besides roles of the U-858 crew, Scouts will also man the snack bar.

Filling the Grossdeutschland void will be a vast array of displays.

They include a special operations “spy” executive, a seamstress, a dance troupe and mounted horse patrols coming from southern Virginia.

The seamstress, Sharon Rea from Pennsylvania, will showcase home-front type items that ladies would have used. There will be education on how women during the WWII era would make things out of scraps.

The dance troupe will feature two swing instructors — Mike Corbin and his girlfriend — and Leah Klump. They will perform in the Orientation Building.

New this year is Spamtime, a World War II radio re-enactment. “They research the area, and look at news in the area as if it were April 28, 1942,” said Dr. Hattier.

There also may be a low-power radio station within the park.

In attendance will be (Ret.) Delaware National Guard Brigadier General Terry Wiley with Delaware Military Heritage Foundation.

Of course, there will be plenty of weapons, equipment, vehicles and re-enactors.

“We are splitting into categories. The cantonment where the barracks are, that is World War II. Everything outside is going to be post war,” said Dr. Hattier.

The post-WWII effort this year includes the Korean and Vietnam eras and slightly later, into early 1980s.

“Outside the cantonment, we’ll have guys traveling back and forth, handing out brochures, talking to people,” said Dr. Harrier. “Two gentlemen are putting in complete radio communications based in their jeep, one at the bathhouse and another maybe at Battery Herring. That way the first thing people are going to see is the radio setup and the jeeps. As soon as they park their cars, before they get on shuttle buses they will instantly see military presence.”

“Although there no German re-enactors coming, we still should have close 85 re-enactors, 20 more than last year. Our numbers are coming up,” said Dr. Hattier, noting about a dozen re-enactors are women, more than any previous year.

As always there will be cannon firing demonstrations. Fort Miles’ latest addition is a 90 mm gun, restored by the Fort Miles Historical Association’s Bunker Busters. The fort now features every type of gun or cannon it had back in WWII, except one, Dr. Hattier said.

In addition to jeeps, there will be several monster-sized vehicles, including the Ward LaFrance and a new truck purchased by the park, a 1944 GM truck CCKW that may be used to transport some people.

Bunker tours of Battery 519 include plotting displays featuring artillery coordinates on how enemy ships 12 miles out in the Atlantic could be identified, targeted and sunk with three shots.

Dr. Hattier noted ongoing improvements at Fort Miles are symbolic of the vision of the late Lee Jennings, co-founder of the Fort Miles Historical Association and former historian for the Delaware State Parks System.

Mr. Jennings passed away in 2010. There is a movement to name the Fort Miles mess hall in his memory.

“His vision is being carried forward today,” Dr. Hattier said. “His vision has infected a lot of other people.”

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