The drivers of seven World War II-vintage vehicles gunned their engines and the column moved out.

The cars, trucks and a Sherman tank bringing up the rear pulled away from the American Museum of Armor and headed for the nearby fields and woods of the Old Bethpage Village Restoration, standing in for the French countryside of 1944.

A squad of about 40 re-enactors in khaki was joined by 19 civilians who had paid to be outfitted in helmets and army jackets and get a taste of what it was like to be part of an armored patrol in the weeks after D-Day.

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And because some re-enactors wearing gray German uniforms had left earlier, it was likely to be an eventful outing.

GOING BACK IN TIME

The museum started its Armor Experience program after it opened last fall. "We want people to be transported in time and space," museum director Mark Renton explained.

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Among those there to experience the time warp were Michael Martino of East Meadow and his two daughters upfront in a clanking tracked British Bren gun carrier. He said he brought Julia Martino, 11, and her 12-year-old sister, Giustina Gentile, because his grandfather served in the Army in Europe during World War II. They didn't need persuading; both said they loved history.

Joseph Gutierrez, 58, of Northport, came with daughter Darla Salva Cruz, 27, of Smithtown. Both are also history buffs. "It sounded like a lot of fun and a good learning experience," she said.

Eric Browner, 89, came up from Florida to attend with his son, Roger, of Jericho, because he served in World War II as a Navy turret gunner and radarman on a patrol plane.

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As for the people playing the soldiers and operating the heavy artillery -- they are museum staff and volunteers.

Among them is Jim McGaughan of City Island, a re-enactor for seven years who came with his 10-year-old son, Matthew, who played a French boy. He was the gunner in a tracked British Bren gun carrier Renton was driving.

"My father was a medic in the Army in Europe in World War II," McGaughan said. "I want to remember what went on so people remember the sacrifice they made in World War II, Korea and other conflicts."

A HEIGHTENED BATTLE

The noisy caravan traveled along the edge of the 19th century settlement and veered off on a wooded trail. The abrupt turns made by vehicles running on tracks rather than wheels threatened to propel unsuspecting occupants off their seats. And the heat radiating from engines threatened to wilt them even if the summer sun didn't.

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A glimpse of two soldiers on the road ahead brought the column to a halt and sergeants directed riflemen ahead and out into the woods. There were bursts of gunfire, but the two soldiers on the road turned out to be American engineers digging up mines.

"We got to get the column moving. Let's go!" someone cried, propelling the vehicles back into motion. But they didn't travel far before the Yanks encountered a French boy who told them Germans were nearby.

Just then, the enemy was spotted across a field and the GIs opened fire. The column moved into the field where a staff car was burning and the Americans fanned out. Germans lurking behind a rail fence started shooting and were met with withering counterfire.

Martino's daughters, who had held their hands over their ears periodically because of the engine noise, repeated that maneuver because of the heightened cacophony.

A squad of soldiers advanced on the fence.

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"Hands up!" they yelled. They captured two Germans before a sergeant bellowed, "Column, mount up!" and the vehicles headed back to the armor museum. It had been an hour.

"You get a real feel for what it was like to go out on an armored patrol," Gutierrez said. "You get the smell, you get the noise."

"Very realistic," Eric Browner says.

And Julia Martino concluded, "It was really cool to see how they fought in the war. But it got kind of hot and it was really loud."

The Armor Experience

WHEN | WHERE Select weekend mornings spring through fall, weather permitting, at the Museum of American Armor at Old Bethpage Village Restoration. Children must be at least 11 years old to participate.

INFO museumofamericanarmor.org

COST $75