Gene McDonald spends his work days as a computer programmer. His weekends are spent several years in the past. The Genoa resident spent a recent Sunday afternoon talking with reporter Debbie Behrends about being a historical re-enactor for the Revolutionary War and World War II.
Behrends: How long have you been a re-enactor?
McDonald: I’ve been doing Rev War since about 1992. I’m coming up on my third season as a World War II re-enactor.
Behrends: How did you get interested in re-enacting?
McDonald: I saw a TV special about Rev War re-enacting and did a web search to find a local group. I found the North West Territory Alliance. I am an Anglophile, so I re-enact in both as an Englishman. I started out in the 17th Light Dragoons. I spent about 15 years with that unit. Now I’m in the 84th of Foot. For World War II, I’m in the Hampshire Regiment.
Behrends: How did you go from the Revolutionary War to World War II?
McDonald: I wasn’t interested in doing Civil War. There really isn’t anyone that does the War of 1812. There are groups that re-enact World War I, but I didn’t like the idea of being in the trenches. I had heard people talking about World War II, and I attended the event at Midway Village in Rockford. It’s one of the largest in the country. So again, I did some research and found a group. My first World War II re-enactment was in Benton Harbor, Mich.
Behrends: How do you go about putting together uniforms for these portrayals?
McDonald: Kathy [McDonald’s wife] made my first coat for Rev War. I say first because she said she would never make another. She had an allergic reaction to the wool, but she kept working on it. It’s a beautiful coat. Everything for Rev War has to be created from scratch.
World War II uniforms and gear are much easier to get. There are companies that specialize in reproducing these items. Now it’s a matter of getting some of the finer points like grenades and entrenching tools.
Behrends: Do you ever feel like you know enough to share with the public at events?
McDonald: You’re constantly learning. Even if you don’t have the answer, someone else will.
Behrends: Tell me about one of your most memorable experiences as a re-enactor.
McDonald: I was part of a D-Day re-enactment in Ohio. I don’t want to take anything away from the men who experienced it firsthand, but it was incredible. It was the closest thing I can imagine to being there. There was this Navy guy screaming at us to get off his boat, and the water was deeper than we thought it would be. There were Germans shooting at us from the beach and planes overhead. It was incredible.
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