Camp Mabry brings World War II to life during annual Open House

Story By: Capt. James Greenwood

Posted On: April 17, 2016

AUSTIN, Texas – The Living History Detachment of the Texas Military Forces Museum performed a fiery, stirring reenactment of a battle between the Texas Army National Guard’s 36th Infantry Division and a unit of German soldiers near the end of World War II during the annual Texas Military Department’s Open House at Camp Mabry, in Austin, on April 16-17, 2016.

Surrounded by the thick foliage and marshy ponds of Camp Mabry, with a dark gray sky threatening heavy rains overhead, tanks and soldiers emerged from the tree line and opened fire on each other.

Every uniform, weapon and vehicle was reproduced with painstaking historical accuracy, and yet the rattle of machine guns and boom of artillery brought the battle very much into the present.

The detachment traditionally hosts displays and presentations from every military campaign the Texas Guard has participated in since the Texas Revolution through the Vietnam War, to include a World War II reenactment with World War II aircraft and several 1940’s Army tanks. They seek to preserve military history, Texas history and teach people about the equipment and tactics used during each time period.

“The Volunteers are dedicated to honoring and supporting the troops,” said Jeff Hunt the director of the Texas Military Forces Museum at Camp Mabry.

Students, some as young as 14, doctors, lawyers, army veterans, historians and teachers comprised a majority of the actors. They slept in World War II style tents near the battlegrounds and did their best to mimic what life was like for American soldiers of the period.

"I have been inspired by WWII history since I was a child,” said Matt Rayson, portraying a rifleman in the 36th Infantry Division. “My father is also a reenactor.”

Reenactments provide more than education, for many veterans it is an opportunity to share their experiences with family and friends, and for some it is an opportunity to heal emotionally.

"A marine veteran who was a POW during Word War II, after seeing a reenactment of the battle of Iwo Jima, finally let go of the pain he endured as a prisoner of the Japanese army," said Hunt.

The living history detachment conducts approximately one living history program a month and participates in reenactments all over the country, hosting several of their own at Camp Mabry each year.