Andrew of the 18th Luftwaffe Field Division | Reenactor Interview

1. Why did you choose your impression? 

I chose each of my impressions for a variety of reasons. My primary impression (the one I normally do reenactments with) is a 18th Luftwaffe field division impression. I chose it due to a fascination with the extremely poor reputation of these soldiers. They were basically "playing soldiers" much like we do today. My other two impressions are US impressions. One is my grandfather's unit, the 517th Parachute Infantry Regiment, the reasoning behind this impression is explained in question six. The other is a USMC Corporal from 10th Marines of which I was a modern member in real life.

2. Can you tell us about your reenacting gear?

For this question I'll stick to my primary impression since a book would be needed to properly explain every piece of gear for my multiple impressions. I portray a member of a German air force field unit during the Normandy time frame. Such a soldier wears the typical Luftwaffe blue uniform, and a unique camouflage jacket that is only seen in the field divisions. My gear consists of that typical of a rifleman: belt, y-straps, ammo pouches, bread bag, canteen, gas mask can, helmet, bayonet, and of course a rifle. 

3. What's your favorite part of reenacting? 

My favorite part of reenacting is first and foremost the friendships I have made. I've been reenacting multiple eras since I was 12-13 years old, I'm now nearing 30. I'm as close to my reenacting family as I am my biological family. Nowhere else have I been able to meet such an outstanding group of people with the same interests as me. 

4. What group do you reenact with? 

The only WWII unit I am a member of currently is the 18th Field Division. I am an associate member of a couple of GI units, the 101st Living History Association and the 29th Infantry Division, but have not officially joined them, yet. All the units I associate with are currently seeking more recruits. 

5. What have you learned from reenacting?

The amount of knowledge I have learned over the years is immeasurable. Growing up hearing the stories from all the 517th veterans at reunions, and then researching and finding out more about the time frame of the stories has been the most memorable of it all.

6. Who's your favorite WWII hero? 

My WWII hero is my grandfather Pvt. Robert Vaught of the 517th Parachute Infantry Regiment. It is an honor to know someone, and be related to him, from such a unknown, but tough and elite unit that fought in Italy, Southern France, The Bulge, The Ardennes, and into Germany. He survived it all basically without a scratch, and talks to this day about it in the most humble of ways. Truly an inspiration. 

7. What advice would you give to newbie reenactors? 

My advice for Newbies is to find an impression that calls to you, do your research on it, and do that impression to the best of your ability. Always remember that having a good impression is more than having the most expensive and authentic gear. It is a mindset. 

Follow the 18th Luftwaffe Field Division reenacting group on Facebook.

Flying in a B-17

Flying in a B-17 was not something I had ever anticipated doing ... at least not at this point in my life. I'm a starving artist and, with regular tickets being over $400 for a 30 minute flight, that wasn't going to happen anytime soon! But a few weeks ago, I showed up at the museum for my internship and was offered a free flight on a B-17. WHAT?! My dad drove me out to MAPS Air Museum in Canton, OH then picked me up in at the Butler airport in Pennsylvania.

When we got there, I was offered to fly in either the B-24 or B-17, but I stuck with the B-17 because I interviewed a WWII veteran who was a waist gunner on a B-17. I'm really thankful I didn't change planes because the B-24 had mechanical issues and didn't end up flying out until the following day. 

This is the B-17 I've fallen in love with! It was built at Long Beach, CA by the Douglas Aircraft Company and accepted on April 7, 1945 but was too late for combat. It was named “Nine-O-Nine” in honor of a 91st Bomb Group, 323rd Squadron plane of the same name which completed 140 missions without an abort or loss of a crewman.

Standing under the nose of the plane which I got to fly in for almost the entire trip!

The B-24 ...

Inside the B-24 ...

Oh look, it's the B-17 again! Isn't she beautiful? =)

When it was time to board the plane, I was given instructions such as: Don't touch any doors, hatches, windows, cables. The bomb bay opens with 90 pounds. If you drop anything, don't try to grab it. And yet, I wasn't afraid!

As I was sitting there listening and feeling the vibration of plane starting up, I was thinking: "How the heck did I get here!?" Life is full of surprises! 

The top hatch was open for the flight, making it extra loud!

I sat in the radio room for take-off and landing. 

"The radio operator was isolated from the rest of the crew in the mid-section of the bomber. The radio compartment was located between two bulkheads; one directly behind the bomb bay and the other just forward of the ball turret. He had a restricted view and usually had to sit at his receiver and sweat out the battle that raged outside. Yet, he was a key member of the crew, handling the communication equipment." — Shot Down by Steve Synder

View of the crew from the radio room ... 

View from the radio room window ...

Once we were in the air, I was allowed to walk around the aircraft. I ended up spending all my time in the bombardier position because the view was amazing! I was the only passenger so I got it all to myself. =)

"The accurate and effective bombing is the ultimate purpose of your entire airplane and crew. Every other function is preparatory to hitting and destroying the target. That's your bombardiers job. The success or failure of the mission depends upon what he accomplishes in that short interval of the bombing run. When the bombardier takes over the airplane for the run on the target, he is in absolute command. He will tell you what he wants done, and until he tells you 'Bombs Away,' his word is law." — B-17 Pilot Training Manual

Going through clouds ... 

The ball turret was off limits ... not that I'd even want to go in there! 

Most crew members considered the Plexiglas ball turret the worst crew position on the aircraft. The confining sphere of only thirty inches in diameter was on the underside or "belly" of the aircraft and required an agile occupation; someone immune to claustrophobia and brave enough to be without a parachute close by. — Shot Down by Steve Synder

I had to get a picture of the waist gunner position because of Joe! 

A crowd gathered at the Butler airport to see the planes land ...

When the B-17 landed, this gentleman came over to me and said: "Where's my B-24?" We talked and he told me he was drafted at age 18 and was a tail gunner on a B-24. He flew 50 missions over Germany, France, and Italy then vowed to never get in an airplane again. He has stayed true to his word. Before his friend snapped this picture he asked, "Can I put my arm around you?" Yeah, isn't he cute?! 

Flying in the B-17 gave me a whole new appreciation for the men who fought for our freedom during WWII. The bravery these men possessed is beyond comprehension. We can't thank them enough.


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