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History Brought To Life

While most hobbyists collect baseball cards or airport travel trinkets, one group on Long Island collects vintage armored war tanks, authentic canteens, pup tents, grenade launchers, and such from the World War II era. Members of the Long Island Living History Association share a similar interest in keeping WWII history alive, as historical reenactors, a tribute to veterans.

Next weekend, the Long Island Living History Association will recreate WWII at Old Bethpage Village Restoration (OBVR) in Old Bethpage beginning on May 18. Members, including Levittown’s Mike Keane, will arrive at the Long Island village and leave modern technology and convenience behind as they switch into authentic character and 1940s ways of living.

The organization prides itself as being military historians, educating people about America’s wars. They wear war-era gear, with displays and reenactment battles and are regularly called to march in the veterans’ parades, to appear in era-specific movies, and to recreate history for school groups.

“I am learning more from participating than books could ever teach me about WWII,” said Keane. He explained that it is a serious hobby. He, like many of the participants, seeks authentic uniforms and vintage military gear to be able to duplicate the realness of the reenactment. Keane said many WWII veterans appreciate the dedication and attention to detail when they see the group in reenactment, which they are often complimented on.

“This is a lot different than going to a museum, you are really there, ‘living’ amongst us,” said Keane.

Fascinated with the WWII era, Keane told Anton Newspapers that only two years ago, he visited an encampment event as a spectator with his son, which is how he became involved. He recalls his first impression of the encampment, “I heard the squeal of the [tank] wheels as I came over that hill [at OBVR] and as it rolled past me I was like, ‘Wow!’ and I was hooked.” Keane did not served in the military, but he is a self-claimed WWII history enthusiast.

Keane said many of the members join with only an appreciation for the war-era and through time, acquire the vintage gear and outfit kits. Long Island Living History Association continues to welcome new members throughout the year for regular events, must enjoy the era is about the only requirement. Most of the members live locally on Long Island, but for some of the events, members from neighboring associations travel from Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Connecticut to participate.

In previous years, the OBVR event has been called “A Salute to American Veterans,” but has since been changed to the “WWII Encampment.” Last year, approximately 75 reenactors participated in some aspect, either as American soldiers and paratroopers, allied forces, resistant forces, Woman Army Corps, civilians, etc. Some of the equipment that will be on hand will be the Sherman Tank, M5 Stewart, M20 armored car, weapons carriers, aircrafts and anti-tank guns, and more.

Keane said most of the larger equipment is on loan from the museums, but he said some of the reenactors are also collectors of the tanks and jeeps.  

The organization began unfunded, simply as a couple of people who shared a love of the historical reenactment. Keane said the Museum of American Armor and the American Airpower Museum have partnered with the group to help fund or supply the larger tactical equipment for some of the larger events, while the group has also received several corporate donations to help offset the expense the authenticity of the ‘hobby’. Private donations are also welcome, helping to keep history alive.

To learn more or to join the group of history reenactors visit: www.facebook.com/longislandlivinghistoryassociation. For information Old Bethpage Village Restoration, call 516-572-8400. For information about other county parks, recreation and museums, call 516-572-0200 or visit: www.nassaucountyny.gov/parks.

For details and more photos from last year’s World War II Encampment at Old Bethpage Village Restoration turn to page 31A to see “Armored Time Machines” in this week’s Anton Weekend.