CEDAR RAPIDS — In the last 12 years, Eastern Iowa resident Katie Evans estimates she’s participated in 100 war re-enactments.
Evans’ role at the fourth annual World War II Remembered event in Cedar Rapids this weekend was that of a Czech partisan, but she has also portrayed Civil War infantrymen, a fifer and farmers. At 21, she also is a skilled craftswoman, able to spin, weave and sew her own clothing for these events, just as women have throughout history.
Like other female re-enactors, Evans said as a woman, she’s typically in the minority. However, women participants say living history events like these offer a chance to educate the public about the important — and often lesser-known — roles women play in conflicts.
Clad in a historically accurate Soviet uniform during Saturday’s re-enactment at Seminole Valley Farm, 1400 Seminole Valley Rd. NE, Melody Hubertus showed a crowd of about 25 people how to use a Russian Mosin-Nagant military rifle.
“Anti-aircraft weapons were in short supply in the Soviet Union, so they would lay on their backs and point these rifles at the sky to shoot at planes,” Hubertus explained before demonstrating how to fire the weapon.
This was Hubertus’s second re-enactment. Before her first event, she had never fired a gun, so participation has pushed her to learn not only more about the history of World War II but also physical skills, like how to handle a firearm, she said.
Variety of roles
Female re-enactors often are drawn to United States enemy impressions — the term re-enactors use to describe their roles — because they can take on more active combat roles than many U.S. impressions allow, said Steve Dussetschleger, a German impressionist with nearly 20 years of re-enactment experience.
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More than 400,000 Soviet women served in the Red Army as tank drivers, snipers, military aviators and medical personnel, according to the National Park Service.
However, many participants are willing to take on whatever impression is needed at an event, he said. For example, Dussetschleger has portrayed members of the British and Germany armies recently, he said.
This variety is one of impressionist Lora Smith’s favorite parts of living history.
Smith has portrayed members of the Women’s Army Corps — or WAC — and the Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service — or WAVES — programs created in the early 1940s to allow women to fill noncombat positions in the U.S. military.
In addition, Smith’s impressions have included German nurses and members of the German communications auxiliary. She also has a Russian impression.
More than 150,000 WACs enlisted during World War II, according to the Indiana State Library, and nearly 250,000 women served in positions in the WAVES, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.
This wide range of impressions means Smith can educate the public about varying aspects of women’s involvement in World War II, which she said is both an enjoyable hobby and a public service.
Re-enactments are a chance for the public to understand the significance and wide range of women’s work during the war.
Evans, who first participated in a re-enactment as part of a home-school assignment to learn about the Civil War, took on the impression of a Czech partisan for the World War II Remembered event.
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Partisans were civilians in many nations who took up arms against German occupiers during the war. Men and women alike engaged in intelligence activities and assassinations to bring down the enemy, and some were later conscripted into the Red Army, said Neal Evans, Katie’s father.
Many people aren’t aware of women’s sacrifices during wars throughout history, added Katie Evans, who mainly participates in Civil War re-enactments.
Thousands of women fought in World War II or took on noncombat military positions, and during the Civil War when women weren’t allowed in the army, they ran businesses, farms and households while their husbands were away, she said.
Reminding the public of the sacrifices made by all generations who experienced war is the main goal of these living history events, said event organizer Dave Pasbrig.
“A lot of people think we’re kind of goofy for dressing up, but we’re here to show the public what it was like,” he said,
And hopefully, these lessons will serve future generations well, Katie Evans said.
“There’s a saying, ‘Those who don’t understand history are doomed to repeat it,’” she said. “That’s one of the cool things about living history. We can learn the things we don’t learn about in class.”
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