Military Expo Attracts Reenactors to Orange

  • Reenactors gather to plan out activities for the Massachusetts Military History Expo, which took place over the weekend at Orange Municipal Airport. Photo/Greg Vine—Photo/Greg Vine

  • Massachusetts Military History Expo organizer Dan Eaton of Athol. Photo/Greg Vine—Photo/Greg Vine

  • “Whiskey 7,” a World War II-era aircraft which dropped U.S. paratroops over France, sits on the tarmac at Orange Municipal Airport. Photo/Greg Vine—Photo/Greg Vine

For the Athol Daily News
Published: 5/19/2019 4:28:05 PM
Modified: 5/19/2019 4:28:04 PM

While rain greeted military reenactors prepping for another day of action at Orange Municipal Airport Sunday morning, Saturday’s weather couldn’t have been better for the kickoff of the fourth annual Massachusetts Military History Expo. The event was conceived of and has been organized each year by Dan Eaton of Athol.

“I guess my background, as applicable to this, is that I’m a history buff, or a history nerd,” said Eaton. “My parents used to take us all around to different things — battle reenactments, second-largest ball of twine – things like that. I’m also an historical reenactor; Revolutionary War and Civil War, primarily artillery. My wife and I decided to start our own reenactment event up here because there’s a lot of love for history in the North Quabbin region. So, with our group of volunteers, we started History Expo and we put on Massachusetts Military History Expo.”

“We start planning this about eight months out,” said Eaton. “So, it takes about eight months to get this thing up and running; all the logistical needs from the vendors to the reenactors, all the vehicles, and the site layout and such.”

Eaton explained that most of the equipment used in the event, from mess tents to aircraft, come from museums and private collections. He added that about 270 reenactors were set to take part in this latest edition of the expo.

The entrance fee goes to support the next year’s event.

“Long story short,” said Eaton, “we’ve got a $30,000 bill to put this event on, whether 100 people show up or 1,000 people show up. We have some donations from area businesses like Girardi Distributors, the Athol-Orange Eagles Club is donating, a few people donate to put this thing on. It’s grown and refined, so it’s gotten a little more streamlined, a little more efficient.”

While reenactors await their upcoming “battles,” many wait in historically accurate encampments. And at each encampment, of course, there has to be food.

Alan Crane of North Branford, Connecticut was the cook for the 26th Yankee Division, which took part in the reenactment of battle from the First World War. It includes members from throughout New England.

“My grandfather was in World War I,” said Crane, “so I’ve always had an interest in World War I. I’ve been doing this for about 25 years. My dad told me a lot about him, and we had his uniform and a few other things.”

Crane’s grandfather, Donald Crane, was stationed in Paris during the war.

Crane was manning a kitchen on wheels, built to historic specifications last year for the purpose of reenactments.

“It’s the only working American rolling kitchen in the world,” he said, adding that he’d be cooking for about 50 people over the course of the weekend. “That type of stove can cook for 250 guys.”

Next weekend, the Yankee Division is off to Alna, Maine for another event.

Another of the reenactors on hand for the event was George Cornwall of Ashburnham. Dressed in Spanish-American War garb, Cornwall stood by a 1902 3-inch field gun manufactured at the Watervliet Arsenal in Watervliet, N.Y. Founded in 1813, Watervliet is the oldest continuously active arsenal in the country.

Cornwall has been active in reenactments for nearly three decades. He said he was drawn into the activity by well-known Ashburnham personality Granville Rideout, who passed away in 2005 at the age of 91.

“We got started with a gun we call a four-pounder,” said Cornwall. “The 1760-era gun was the type used by Gen. (Benedict) Arnold, before he was a traitor, at the battle of Valcour Island.”

The battle, like the battle of Bunker Hill, was a tactical victory for the British but a strategic victory for the American rebels.

Cornwall said he anticipated taking part in at least four more reenactments this year. While four Ashburnham participants took part in the weekend’s event, he said there were 10 or 11 members of the Ashburnham contingent.

“I think it’s important people know more about our history and the sacrifices made for this country,” said Cornwall, echoing the sentiments of many on hand for the weekend’s event.

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