Thursday, March 6, 2014

WWII: An Interview with Woodrow Wilson II

I was nosing around on Facebook one night when I came across a post from a friend, Woodrow Wilson II (yes, that is his real name):

"You know, people see me wearing these unique uniforms from modern day to the past. I love wearing them because it gives me a feeling I cannot ever explain, as well as of what stories that I feel in them. It's a very unique feeling that gets me out of my shell. Taking pictures in them and seeing them myself tells me stories I could come up with in my blogs or things. I love being a WWII reenactor. No shame at all!"

And that got me wondering what it was really like to be in uniform playing the part of a soldier in WWII reenactments.  It wasn't too long ago that we found lots of WWII pictures and letters in the box of an old drill in a garage...graphic pictures that show what war is really like...and letters that were written to send to family...authentic negatives all wrapped up in an envelope addressed to home.  I'll share those with you soon. 

I was lucky enough to interview Woodrow, and wanted to share how his experience tells stories from the war and how he has been able to hear them from his own grandfather and deliver them in this most interesting hobby.

So, how did you get your name?

I'm Woodrow Thomas Wilson II.I was named after my grandfather. Woodrow was named after the president. Three historical facts you might not know about the president.
1. He died from a stroke
2. Had a doctoral in law and is the only president that is a doctor out of all of them.

3. His name is actually Thomas Woodrow Wilson

And your brother?

Dewey was named after our maternal grandfather. Which the USMC uniform I wear actually belonged to him. "Doc" was his nickname because of his degree in physical education. He served in WWII as a Marine officer. Rose to the rank of Captain in the USMCR and transferred into the US Army reserves forces and retired as a Lt. Col. He told me many times before that he would have loved to been given the rank of Full Bird Col. But he didn't take it because it would have consisted him going to active duty and taking time away from family.

Woodrow and his brother, Dewey.

Very cool.  And how did you get into reenactment? 

I have an undying fascination and love of WWII. My grandfather, Doc always loved telling me and Dewey about his experiences in the pacific. He's one of the greatest reasons I support the 2nd amendment. He taught me how to shoot and maintain my firearms along with firearm safety.
Seeing movies like "Saving Private Ryan", "Band of Brothers", "Dirty Dozen", and many others. Especially John Wayne classics were also a part of the reason.

A few years ago, I was interviewed on a news cast for a fundraiser I helped host to rebuild Ft. Washita's barracks that were burnt down by three teenage arsonists who had nothing better to do but to kick around burning toilet paper. I was asked why I do this back then too. "I do it to save history. We all do!"

And your favorite uniform/impression?

My most favorite impression is for Allied, 82nd Airborne 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment of Able Company 1st Battalion Paratrooper. For Axis, Fallschrimj√§ger Regiment 6. The German counterparts of the US and British paratroopers.

Woodrow in his grandfather's dress blues.

 Woodrow's grandfather, Dewey F Langston.

So, do you believe in reincarnation? 

This picture below is an actual WWII picture. It is not me at all. I find it interesting of how I look so much like this man and also portray what he does. General George Patton was a firm believe in reincarnation. On Dec. 21, 1945, he was killed in a freak car accident. Forty years later, I was born on the same day. I do believe reincarnation is very possible. But, unknown.

Oh, gosh.  That looks so much like you. 

How do you decide what you will reenact and are there several groups involved in one? 

Well, I am part of a group. Primarily, 101st Airborne 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment 2nd Battalion of Dog Company (yes, this is Easy Company's sister company from Band of Brothers), we are also a branch out from TMHS (Texas Military Historical Society). TMHS is the ones that come up with events to attend. We vote which ones we can authentically attend. 

Also, do most wear authentic uniforms or do they also buy some replicas?

Since I only have one uniform I can wear for the time being, I use the 101st Airborne impression.

The uniforms actually consists of replicas and original pieces from WWII. You might wonder why I have the German uniforms on and only one complete impression, well some of the stuff is extras laying around and we actually loan them out. My friends needed Germans at an event, if they have the full gear and weapon for me to borrow, I would be glad to do so with the permission if my CO.

And do you have special training to be a part of your group?

For training, honestly there's none required before going in. Our group does require a "Boot Camp" session once a year to help with understanding and training of tactical roles. Some of the roles we portray like MPs and Medics aren't really MPs or Medics. But we like having the roles filled by people that have the experience or licensure. Sometimes I portray a medic and in real life, I'm an EMT. 

What about your battles?

We have public battles and tactical battles. Public battles are open to the public to watch re-enactors "fight" and usually are staged and planned out carefully so the public won't get harmed. Tacticals are battles held on private lands away from public. In those situations, it's like a paintball game except you play by an honor system and blank rounds are used.

Any neat experiences in uniform? 

(while fundraising for Ft. Washita barracks that were burned down by arson)

I went into a Waffle Shoppe while in Durant, OK. I as given a discount for wearing my re-enactor uniform. I asked, "Did you give me a discount?" They said, "Yeah a military discount." I told them I was a re-enactor. They told me not to worry about it, I was really friendly with them. I then told them thank you. I was actually wearing this to help the fundraiser in rebuilding a barracks that were burned down. They were appreciative of it.

Thanks so much for sharing your story with me, Woodrow!  (And, just for grins, here he is with my daughter, Katie, at a rockabilly party last summer.  This picture looks authentic to me, and, as a matter of fact, some pieces of it are.)

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