Life at Fort Miles during WWII comes to life at ‘Delaware Goes to War’

Small arms demonstrations will be among the attractions at Delaware Goes to War. Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe

LEWES — In spring 1945, Hitler’s Third Reich was in collapse and island-hopping American forces were zeroing in on the Japanese mainland.

The end of World War II was in sight.

On Saturday, Germany’s surrender and Victory in Europe will receive another living history salute at Delaware Goes to War at Fort Miles in Cape Henlopen State Park.

Military weapons, vehicles and dozens of re-enactors, demonstrations and period-authentic uniforms, memorabilia and music will abound as the Harbor Defenses of the Delaware Living History Association brings wartime life along coastal Delaware from more than seven decades ago back to life.

The event runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Standard state park admission is in effect and there is a $5 charge for visiting /touring the Fort Miles Museum/Battery 519.

Smoke billows from the barrel of a 3-inch gun at Fort Miles during an artillery demonstration at the 2018 Delaware Goes to War. Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe

Organizers anticipate this year’s event, staged through collaboration with Delaware State Parks, Fort Miles Historical Association and the FMHA’s Bunker Busters, will be the best one yet.

“There is a ton of different units that are showing up this year compared to what we had in years past. It is really neat,” said Dr. Donald Hattier, one of the event’s lead organizers.

27 vehicles included

“The other thing this year is vehicles. We have always had some vehicles, maybe 20, give or take. It looks we’re going to have 27 vehicles. It is probably going to be largest gathering of historic military vehicles in this area — ever. It is just going to be just plain huge.”

New to the event, if all goes according to plans, will be the first battalion aide station where wounded personnel closer to the front would be initially triaged and then sent to the larger MAS*H unit.

New vehicle attractions include the DUKW (colloquially known as Duck), a floating six-wheel-drive amphibious modification of the 2 1⁄2-ton CCKW trucks used by the U.S. military during World War II and the Korean War. Three other 2 ½-ton trucks will be on the grounds.

There is a possibility a track-type, armored tank vehicle is coming from Pennsylvania.

Re-enactor Paul Yeager shares information on his Russian Ural Motorcycle. Two Russian cycles are slated to be part of the Delaware Goes to War event. Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe

“Now we are starting to attract heavier equipment even more than what we had last year,” Dr. Hattier said.

Also, on display will be the post-WWII Marine Corps pursuit vehicle, which was used in Grenada and Panama.

“It’s very modern, a little bit different than the World War II stuff, but it’s something that some of vets of that period would certainly appreciate. We are trying reach vets of all eras,” Dr. Hattier said.

At least six Jeeps from the Korean War and Vietnam War will be on hand.

“They are part of our post-war division. The post-war division will be driving around the park. They will be doing all kinds of things. They hand out brochures and other things, getting people involved,” Dr. Hattier said.

Transmission radio stations

“And we have two people this year that are setting up transmission radio stations that from their jeeps will be able to talk around the world,” said Dr. Hattier. “They are going to come in set up a relaying station at various points around the park. So, this year people we will be encouraged to actually go to other sections of the park as well to see some of the stuff that we have. We’re just distributing a little bit differently.”

Among the marquee displays: Bob Buker’s massive American Red Cross Comfort Display.

“Bob’s is a world-class display that belongs in the Smithsonian,” said Dr. Hattier. “He has more things than people would have used at home than any single person I know of. We gave him an entire building to show his stuff off. Everything from what you do in an emergency if a German pilot gets shot down to blackout instructions. He is just unbelievably loaded with stuff.”

“We’re so lucky we were able to get Bob. This is his third year. He has the complete mobile military post office capable of several thousand letters at a time,” Dr. Hattier.

Other attractions include:

• mounted horse patrols with coastal watches;

• two Russian motorcycles;

• pre-war Buicks from 1939 and 40. “To see what people were driving at that time,” Dr. Hattier said.

• WAAC (Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps);

• Sharon Rea, period seamstress;

• Period photography;

• World War II era music by WWII Tunes;

• SPAM time, featuring a radio broadcast from April 27, 1942. “He starts with morning news articles and as the day goes on, he tells what happened the entire day,” said Dr. Hattier;

• Karen Eammon, a vendor of WWII and related uniforms;

• small arms and 3-inch artillery demonstrations;

• re-enacted surrender of a German submarine.

As the primary fort of the Harbor Defenses of the Delaware, Fort Miles was built to defend the Delaware Bay and the Delaware River and protect domestic shipping from enemy fire between Cape May, New Jersey and Cape Henlopen.

U-boat surrender

The fort was the venue for the surrendered German submarine U-858. That May 14, 1945 surrender at Fort Miles, which followed a surrender at sea four days earlier, will be the focus of the annual re-enactment.

“We will premiering an original M-34 tent as the troops would have lived in in 1938,” said Dr. Hattier. “The barracks themselves have been totally upgraded this year so it looks from the outside exactly like it did in 1942. Every building has shutters. They’ve done a fantastic job.”

Uniformed personnel will encourage visitors to visit the Fort Miles Museum.

“If we can’t get you to visit the bunker, then we have failed on our mission,” said Dr. Hattier. “Our mission is to get you in that battery to see the museum and see what’s going on.”

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