Tuesday, August 10, 2010
What could I say except that the Remagen bridge event in Tidioute Pa was one of the best living history events I have been to - bar none! I found it to be just about everything I was looking for. The bridge in Tidioute even resembles the Ludendorff Bridge over the Rhine, which the event centers around.
As Steve Leiss remarked "this is great, where else can you camp right by the Alleghany river in the mountains of pennsylvania?" And he wasn't kidding, as opposed to the oppressive heat that most of us had been enduring, it was nice and temperate at the campground. We could literally see the river from there - which hopefully didn't make the kayakers and innertubers exceedingly nervous when reenactors test fired their weapons near the shoreline.
Presently, only 250 reenactors are allowed in (but I bet they change that later because of popularity). I was one of those lucky few. Armed with my camera, I got to ride in on a vintage 1941 truck and was dropped off in a remote end of a stone quarry. There was no armor but folks brought out all the fun toys; heavy machine guns, mortar crews, bazooka teams, motorcycles with sidecars, and of course the ubiquitous jeep. During the battle the pyrotechnics team lobbed "rounds" into the sky where they left their white, billowy, signatures and alerted us all with a distant "BOOM" which ominously resonated off the nearby mountain range. The battle lasted only a few hours which I thought was great, not too little & not too much.
After the private tactical, we had a few hours for R&R before the main event. Once again, armed with my camera, we all piled into the 1941 truck. Unlike many events which shuffle you off to an obscure place, we headed right straight into the town. We were dropped off in a street lined with eager, enthusiastic, spectators. (someone suggested that several thousand were in attendance) We took our positions and the battle began with a nice little touch, civilians, something you rarely see at a reenactment, but obviously existed at the real event. They did what I would have done; they beat a hasty retreat to avoid the crossfire.
After that, it was "trigger time"! The American forces slowly advanced and the German forces returned fire and fell back. It was deafening at times but it was thrilling playing out this drama in an actual town, in front of the spectators who seemed to be loving every minute of it. The German forces retreated across the bridge and took up defensive positions to destroy the bridge and cut off the Americans. Heres another one of those wonderful things about this event, there was an entire pyrotechnics team for the "blowing the bridge" segment. When crossing the bridge, I saw wires and fireworks left and right. I thought to myself "Now that is one hell of a lot of fireworks". Once they went off, I knew I was right! I've yet to see a pyro display even half as good as this. At one point, the entire middle of the bridge was obscured by smoke. Gradually the silhouettes of GI's began emerging into sharp focus and then the most fierce fight began. (the German forces were ordered to fight to the death). Eventually the GIs took the hill and the battle ended. The crowd, who lined the hill, the streets and everywhere they could fit, went crazy!! They sent up a cheer that I had yet to hear at a public battle. Afterwards there was an palpable excitement in the air. I saw reenactors entering local stores where they were greeted, one and all, with gratitude, enthusiasm, and sometimes even a free coffee. During the ride back to camp, townsfolk were tossing us bottles of water to quench the thirst we'd built up. They shouted praise to us and could not have been more supportive. One reenactor, John Veglak, remarked that "to be period correct, they should have been throwing wine bottles instead" which got a pretty good laugh from me.
Once back at camp, gear off, it was time to get some of those "refreshments" that John mentioned. And that was an easy task since the restaurant/bar was right next to camp! needless to say, the rest of the night went well.