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Old Bethpage hosts WW II re-enactment

WWII enthusiasts ride a Sherman Tank on the

WWII enthusiasts ride a Sherman Tank on the back field at Village Restoration in Old Bethpage, as the village hosted a WWII re-enactment. Credit: Steven Sunshine

Smoke rose in the distance as the squad of soldiers cautiously moved forward. Some belly-crawled, a few hung back, shooting to provide cover.

The group stormed the woods, capturing enemy soldiers. An ambulance arrived. The crowd clapped.

Soldiers, tents, armored weapons, jeeps and other World War II-era equipment turned a grassy field at Old Bethpage Village Restoration into a World War II encampment this weekend.

Surrounded by items from the Pacific and European theater, 65 to 70 volunteers donned World War II uniforms or reproductions to teach about the war. Some sat in bunkers, eating rations from a can. A few guided visitors through an obstacle course. Others demonstrated equipment.

"This is our opportunity to pay homage to World War II veterans," said one of the volunteer organizers, Jim Michaud, 57, of Rockville Centre. "We don't want their stories forgotten. It's our job to carry the torch for these guys because they're fading away."

Throughout the weekend, several World War II veterans stopped by, attracting crowds and questions from history fans and re-enactors.

One was Queens resident Anton Dietrich, 93, who earned two Purple Hearts for his actions during the war, which took him to North Africa, Sicily, England and Normandy.

"I think it's great," Dietrich said. "They want to learn something about the war."

"I knew who my enemy was and he was in uniform," he continued. "These fellows today don't know who they're fighting."

Another was Arnold Turkus, 88, a Florida resident visiting family in Plainview. Turkus said during his service German soldiers were dressing as Americans, so he and his unit created passwords that enemies would not recognize. One was the name of a baseball star.

"They didn't know who Babe Ruth was," he said. "We caught a bunch of guys."

This is the fourth year Michaud and Jim Lennon, 48, of Levittown, have staged re-enactments at Old Bethpage and the second year focusing on World War II. An estimated 1,400 people attended Saturday and 1,000 were expected Sunday, Michaud said.

"It's all about educating people -- that's what we're out here for," Lennon said.

The American Airpower Museum in Farmingdale and the Kadish Museum of American Armor -- a collection owned by Old Westbury resident Lawrence Kadish -- donated heavy machinery, including an operational Sherman tank and a "Long Tom" howitzer.

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