Penn State Altoona hosts encampment of re-enactors

Between battles of World War II, soldiers read letters from loved ones. Then they reread them, maybe a hundred times.

“Hurry up and wait” is a saying among soldiers. War is 90 percent boredom and exhaustion, a Penn State Altoona history professor said.

And 10 percent sheer terror.

Penn State Altoona’s history encampment outside of the Hawthorn Building spanned the American Civil War, World War II and the Vietnam War.

“We reached out to re-enacting organizations as far away as Carlisle, Pa., hoping that by showing what they wore, what they ate and their weapons, it would give people a higher appreciation of the generations of U.S military and what they have done for us,” event organizer and history professor Jared Frederick said. “We are out here in the rain today, but that is easy compared to what most people go through in war time.”

The ammunition of a World War II U.S. soldier’s standard-issue M1 rifle was loaded in clips of eight shots that could be fired as fast as the trigger could be pulled. Then the empty clip ejected from the gun making that famous “pting” sound. During reloading, the bolt sometimes slammed a soldier’s thumb into its receiver like a hammer.

The M1 carbine was lighter, more useful for Marines, and the Thompson submachine gun was useful in the Pacific theater- for getting Japanese out of tunnels, a war re-enactor said.

During World War II, the Allied powers’ firepower was greater than the Axis Powers’ down to the Colt M19 pistol, a weapon which was available to any soldier in World War II but became a status symbol for officers during the Vietnam War.

But when Americans fought against communist powers in Southeast Asia, the Viet Cong’s AK-47s were more powerful and more durable than U.S. soldiers’ M16s.

The 1st Battalion of the 7th Cavalry barely survived its battle in the La Drang valley with Viet Cong and a concealed North Vietnamese Army battalion, a war re-enactor said.

With radio antenna protruding from behind his shoulder, Vietnam War re-enactor Hunter Ryan, a Big Springs high school student, said he would have been targeted before an officer.

“The first man to go is the radio man,” he said. The radio was used for communicating with other units and air support.

The M16 allowed a soldier to fire 150 rounds per minute on full automatic, but it could take three to four hits from an M16 to kill a Viet Cong soldier, who could kill a U.S soldier with one shot from an AK-47.

“Our guys were spraying and praying,” said a re-enactor portraying a 7th Cavalry soldier during the Vietnam War from 1967 to 1972.

More than a century earlier, sharpshooters of the Union and Confederate armies crawled, five paces apart, across fields – in front of the front lines – to begin battles of the American Civil War.

Sharpshooters of the Civil War had to choose their shots carefully because only three shots could be fired per minute from their breach-loaded rifles.

Calum Munro, a sharpshooter re-enactor with the Keystone Regiment, said soldiers needed a pocket full of small mercury caps to load onto their gun’s hollow metal pipe near the end of the gun barrel. Pulling the trigger released a hammer that caused a spark igniting gunpowder shooting a bullet.

Union Army sharpshooters were charged with taking out their Confederate counterparts before punching holes in the opposing front lines as their infantry followed behind them.

Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435.