MADISON, Tennessee–Reenactors and others relived the 1940s on Saturday at Amqui Station in Madison.
Men wearing military uniforms and women dressed in period clothing pitched tents and brought out vehicles to help educate the public about World War II days.
It was the third annual “World War II Remembrance Day and Living History Encampment” at the former train station, which today is a museum and visitor center but during WWII was where local men who fought in the war departed and returned home.
Cate Hamilton, the recently retired director of the station and a volunteer at Saturday’s event, got the idea for the annual tradition from a similar event in Linden, Tennessee, which this year will be held Sept. 22 and 23.
“It’s huge now,” she said. “They use all their downtown.”
Though more modest in size, the event in Madison on Saturday was not lacking in colorful characters. Enthused reenactors spoke of how the country pulled together during WWII, with everyone doing their part. There also was at least one WWII veteran on the grounds who could relate firsthand experiences from the war.
Al Hulstrunk, 92, served as an Army glider pilot in Europe. Glider pilots in WWII were responsible for transporting food, ammunition and medical supplies.
“We carried all kinds of stuff,” Hulstrunk said.
Sometimes they transported soldiers, who were prepared to jump out and start fighting right away.
After the war, Hulstrunk pursued a career as an atmospheric physicist. He is from a small town near Albany, New York and moved to the Nashville area more than 10 years ago to get away from the snow.
He was at Saturday’s event with his gyroplane, which was commercially built in the early 1960s. Hulstrunk, who modified it, keeps it in the carport at his Donelson home.
Hulstrunk said he wishes the U.S. today would stay out of conflicts overseas, such as those in the Middle East, and instead leave them for the people there to resolve.
Among the reenactors Saturday was Joel Barnett, a professor of mechanical engineering at Vanderbilt University. He usually comes as an Army combat photographer, but on Saturday was dressed as a photojournalist for the now defunct Nashville Banner. Barnett uses working vintage cameras to take old-fashioned photos of other reenactors.
Barnett said the Nashville Banner ran extensive coverage of training exercises held in Middle Tennessee during WWII. Soldiers came from across the country to practice maneuvers here because the terrain in Middle Tennessee is similar to that in western Europe. Hotels couldn’t hold all the soldiers pouring into the area, so some camped in Centennial Park, Barnett said.
Barnett is sometimes called Joe Rosenthal by fellow reenactors. Rosenthal was an Associated Press photographer who won the Pulitzer Prize for his iconic photo of six men raising the American flag on Iwo Jima, a small island in the Pacific south of Tokyo where the Marines waged and won a major battle.
“By quirk of fate, I look like Joe Rosenthal,” said Barnett, who once was mistaken for Rosenthal by an aging Marine at a reunion who asked for his autograph. “It was easier to go along than try to talk him out of it.”
Another reenactor at Saturday’s event was Tabitha Engelhardt, who was dressed as an American Red Cross volunteer. Volunteers would serve soldiers sandwiches, donuts and other snacks. Engelhardt said she is drawn to the time period of WWII because of the fashion, wholesomeness and music. She was looking forward to band music and dancing in the evening, noting that Hulstrunk, the WWII veteran, is a good dancer.
“That man can cut a rug,” she said.
Paul Mathes, one of the reenactors portraying a soldier, has spent a lot of time over the years hanging out with WWII veterans at reenactments and reunions. It’s not the same now that many of them are dying off, he said.
“It’s a very big void in my life.”
For more information about the “Remembering WWII” event in Linden in September, visit rememberingwwii.com.
Amqui Station and Visitor Center is looking for volunteers who can give tours and help with museum archiving, social media, office work and facility rentals. For more information, call 615-891-1154 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.