Once a year on a late September weekend, you’ll find Sam Hiser—along with over 1,000 of his friends—eating, drinking, and dodging enemy fire on acres of land at Rockford’s Midway Village. Dressed to the hilt in World War II period uniforms, complete with impeccably authentic personal items, the men and women meet to create living history and reenact live-action battle scenarios. Sam, a member of the Tri-State Living History Association, hails from Rockford, but his counterparts come from across the country to take part in the event—the largest World War II era reenactment in the United States. What makes it the biggest? Over 1,000 uniformed reenactors from 40 states, representing soldiers from the United States, Great Britain, France, Poland, Ukraine, Russia, Japan, Italy and Germany, along with 70 to 80 vintage tanks, half-tracks and other 1940s era military vehicles.

Safety and authenticity—down to the most precise details—are paramount to the event. Sam and many of his fellow reenactors even eat from a historically accurate full field kitchen, under the watchful eye of Byron Vinyard (who’ll likely be stirring up white gravy for ‘shit on a shingle,’ the era’s signature military issue food). Byron, Sam and the other reenactors pay particular attention to every detail of their impressions, spending hours on research and dollars out of pocket, in order to tell the soldiers’ true stories. The reenactors aren’t creating a live-action war game, they are portraying and participating in a part of World War II history. By telling these stories effectively, they honor the veterans who they so deeply appreciate.

Every reenactor has their own personal motivation for contributing to the event; Sam’s comes from his interest in history and both his grandfathers’ service, but also the relationships he’s created while working with many World War II vets. Reenacting is not the product of a passing whim; potential reenactors must exhibit their knowledge and interest in order to join their parent association. Sam and his wife dressed in period attire as part of his ‘audition’ for his impression.

One unique event in and of itself doesn’t generally give a city character, but World War II Days brings many people of character—honoring those who have served—to this city.

“We have to tell their story.”
–Byron Vinyard

Directed by Matt Shane Youngblood and Zach Staas. Music by Daniel McMahon.

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