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Rural Missouri Magazine


WWII Remembered
Honoring veterans the goal of
World War II reenactors

by Jim McCarty

A group of World War II reenactors poses for a photo in front of the Omar Bradley Memorial in Moberly.

History books tell us that World War II ended in 1945. But for a growing number of men and women the war lives on. They still hear the flat crack of an M-1 Garand rifle. They know the angry growl of a tank in action. They recognize the high-pitched whine of a jeep straining through the mud.

History has more meaning when it is lived. And that’s what World War II reenactors like Tim and Elizabeth Sherrer of Columbia have in mind. when the two don uniforms from the 1940s and take part in mock battles.

Two years ago Tim started a unit of the U.S. Army’s 84th Division nicknamed The Railsplitters. This famous unit traces its heritage to Abraham Lincoln and the Black Hawk Indian War of 1832. During World War II it fought in the Battle of the Bulge and included such famous names as Malcom Forbes and Henry Kissinger.

Tim is no stranger to reenacting nor to the military way of life. He teaches military science at the University of Missouri-Columbia. He’s also a major in the Army Reserves where he commands a real company of Railsplitters. Of his hobby, he says, “Basically, I am doing the same job I do in the reserves except 50 years earlier.”

The hobby was a natural progression for Tim, who built World War II models and collected military equipment. He started out portraying an American soldier, then switched to the German side. After many years he switched back to being a GI.

Elizabeth says she married into reenacting when she met Tim. Her “impression” — reenactor talk for the type of soldier they portray — is a Women’s Army Corps soldier.

Tim Scherrer's collection includes this Ford jeep and a Dodge weapons carrier. Tim started The Railsplitters, a World War II reenactors unit based in Columbia. Normally he wears the full uniform of a World War II GI.

“It’s been a male-dominated hobby for some time,” she says. “Most of the female reenactors come in as Army Nurse Corps, or a lot do American Red Cross. I did a different route. My grandfather served in the Signal Corps. To honor him I decided to do a WAC in the Signal Corps.”

Once Elizabeth got a chance to portray a gunner on a Stuart tank, not the typical role for a female soldier in World War II. “It was real interesting because I had never been in a tank. It’s not very comfortable. You are standing up with your back against this metal thing.”

While the Columbia-based Railsplitters are new on the reenacting scene, they bring a lot of experience. “Probably half my unit are burnt out Civil War reenactors,” says Tim. “There’s a bigger variety in this — we can do Pacific Theater, Russian-front events. I’ve done a couple of D-Day events with real U.S. Navy landing craft.”

Besides portraying soldiers from a variety of units and even countries, World War II reenactors can choose from a wealth of equipment to complete their impression. They can also use vehicles like tanks, half tracks and the inevitable jeeps, which Tim says are vital to the hobby.

“It sort of ties it all together,” he says. “Certainly the American Army in WWII you can’t really do anything accurate without having vehicles.”

Tim has two military vehicles, a jeep made by Ford and a Dodge WC-51 weapons carrier, which he likens to a “jeep on steroids.” Both vehicles took part in a recent Railsplitters event, a convoy the Scherrers hope to make an annual event. Two World War II veterans rode in the convoy, including Forrest Loveless of Mountain Grove. Forrest was in the infantry during World War II. He recalls, “We walked a lot more than we rode.”

Reenactors pause during a recent convoy from Columbia to Moberly.

Before the convoy the vehicles went to Columbia’s VA hospital to give rides to patients.
“They had one gentleman there who hadn’t been outside the hospital in over a year,” Elizabeth says. “It really made us feel good that we could do something that interested that person enough and really showed that we cared for them.”

Talk to World War II reenactors and you will discover a common theme: “It’s all about honoring the veterans of World War II,” says Randall Palmer, a Railsplitter who portrays a military policeman.

Like Elizabeth, most of the reenactors have relatives who fought in the war. “Any way I could honor him and remember him I will do it,” she says of her grandfather.

The remaining veterans provide a welcome source of information to the reenactors, who strive for authenticity. Elizabeth says this research is part of the group’s mission.

“Tim and I have taken the approach that what we are trying to do is educate the public on things that happened in World War II. You are trying to reenact the experience but you are also trying to provide for younger people who may not have a grandparent in the war with some idea what it was like. The only way you can do that is through research.”

Reenactors assume an impression, or a character, for convoys and other events. Some impressions, such as this depiction of Gen. Douglass MacArthur, are more specific than others.

Accuracy in the equipment used is stressed to varying degrees in the different units. Says Tim: “Certainly with this unit you have to do it right, for a couple of reasons. Number one, it’s just incorrect not to and number two, I think it’s just a disservice to the vets. If you are going to honor these guys you need to do it right.”

Often the Scherrers get e-mails from people all over the world who want information on the real Railsplitters. Tim’s connections in the Army and the research they have done help them answer questions.

World War II reenacting is growing in popularity. Missouri has three other units besides The Railsplitters, one based in Kansas City and two in St. Louis. Tim says anyone interested in joining The Railsplitters is welcome to apply.

“We want to talk to them and figure out who they are and their motivations. If they are in it for the history aspect that’s great. If they are looking for live targets to shoot blanks at they need to play paintball.”
Tim says World War reenactors aren’t interested in reliving World War II. What they are after is getting a sense of what those who fought in the war experienced.

“Maybe one event you won’t get it and the next event you get another piece of it. But when you’ve done it for awhile you have a good concept at least for what they were doing and the obstacles they faced.”

To contact Tim Scherrer call (573) 449-3677 or e-mail soldierboy440@yahoo.com.

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