The Palestine Herald, Palestine, Texas

Local Scene

May 28, 2013

TSR Armed Forces event bring military history to life

PALESTINE — Military history came to life during the Texas State Railroad’s 15th annual Salute to the Armed Forces event Saturday at the Palestine Depot, paying tribute to all branches and all eras of the U.S. military service.

The event featured military re-enactment groups from multiple wars, living history exhibits, static military displays, military support groups and equipment displays by area first responders.

The Texas State Railroad gave those who have served or are currently serving in the military a free afternoon train ride on the Piney Woods Steam Excursion from both the Palestine and Rusk depots. The event also included an evening patriot-themed dinner train.

Bob Poinsett of Palestine set up a Spanish-American War living history exhibit for the event.

“We started doing this in 1998 and we’ve been out here ever since. It’s a lot of fun and the people you meet are great. I have a lot of respect for the knowledge that they represent from their particular time period from various wars,” Poinsett said. “You learn and get to share little-known history with others.”

The event opened with a flag-raising ceremony Saturday morning conducted by the Vietnam Veterans of America Dogwood Chapter 991. A veterans memorial ceremony sponsored by the Disabled American Veterans Chapter 63 was held at 11 a.m.

“The names of all of the KIA (Killed In Action) in Anderson County were called out. It was a nice ceremony. There were eight pages of names and that’s just Anderson County, not anywhere else,” VVA Dogwood Chapter 991 President Allan Ayo said. “We pray that the list doesn’t get any longer.”

Two veterans were presented with U.S. flags during the ceremony including 93-year-old World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War veteran Robert Lee Arnold and VVA secretary Stephen Severn, who also serves as the commander of the VVA Chapter 991 Honor Guard. VVA Vice President Hilton “Bear” Bryan presented the flags to both men.

Some of the participants in the Salute to Armed Forces event included: American Red Cross, Lone Star Military Resource Group, Lone Star Military Farmers, Cub Scout Pack 256, AAA Texas, Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 991, Disabled American Veterans Chapter 63, Women on the Home Front, Uniform Exhibit, Texas State Railroad Society, White Cross Exhibit, Vintage Military Memorabilia sale, John H. Reagan Camp 2156, 1st United States Volunteers-K Troop, World War II Military Police Command Post, Military Operating Room, Camp Lili — WWII Communications Tent, Dog Company-101st Airborne Unit, Palestine Regional Medical Center, Texas Department of Public Safety, Palestine Police Department, Highway 84 East Volunteer Fire Department, Palestine Fire Department, Engine 610 and CBS 19 — East Texas Heroes.

Reenactors Barry Kamball-Cook of Plano and Paul Kepner of Dallas set up a German World War II Camp (2nd SS Panzer Division Armed Reconnaissance) featuring military equipment and vehicles including a World-War II era Volkswagen Kübelwagen and a 1943 BMW sidecar.

“We are history nuts, especially World War II and the people who fought in that war,” Kamball-Cook said. “I’m also a proud gun owner and it’s a way to enjoy the hobby. I like to own military vehicles too. My two sons Reece (14) and Cross (10) are here with me with two of their friends demonstrating some of the military equipment from the era. It’s a good way to spend some time with them as a father. My boys love to do this. It helps them appreciate history and I know that I’m passing this on.”

Kepner represented a German paratrooper and dispatch rider in the camp.

“I’ve been doing this for 35 years just as a hobby and I enjoy it. I enjoy the weapons and the vehicles, the whole bit,” Kepner said.

Both Kamball-Cook and Kepner have participated in World War II reenactments during past Memorial Day weekend events at the railroad park.

“I hope they bring back the show (World War II reenactments) in the future. In reenactments like that, we portray the best bad guys we can. You can’t play cops and robbers without the robbers or cowboys and Indians without the Indians,” Kepner joked.

During a recent reenactment in Austin, Kepner said he “died heroically on the battlefield.”

“I watched the crowd and they really enjoyed it. Whether they cheer for us or boo us, it doesn’t matter. People like to watch the battles and see the good guys win. We hope in the future they will let us interact with the people,” Kepner said.

The John H. Reagan Camp No. 2156 of the Sons of the Confederate Veterans also maintained a camp during the event.

“We fired our cannon at least four or five times during the event and we answered lots of questions. This is our fourth time to be out here. It’s been pretty good, not as hot as last year,” John H. Reagan Camp No. 2156 SCV Commander Dan Dyer said. “We are honoring all of our kinfolks who served.”

A large Veterans Memorial Display featuring from 400 to 500 World War II badges, uniforms and other military memorabilia was set up inside the TSR’s Palestine Depot for spectators to view.

“I started collecting badges in early ‘50s in junior high here in Palestine. My uncle was a career military man and gave me a shoe box full of WWII patches and that got me started,” Robert Hightower, who has collected all of the items for the display over the years, told the Herald-Press during a previous interview. “I have the complete set of medals government put out since WWII except the Distinguished Medal of Honor.”

Hightower served in the Army in 1963 to 1965 before the Vietnam War started.

“I really appreciate the men and women who made sacrifices for our country. I love it when the veterans approach me and tell me about their experiences and the hardships they endured,” Hightower said.

Hightower is now beginning to add patches and military insignia from other wars and conflicts including the Vietnam War and Korean War.

Also set up inside the TSR’s Palestine Depot was a “Women on the Homefront” display arranged by sisters Sheila Galloway and Cindy Smalley, who have done the display for several years.

Galloway portrayed Rosie the Riveter, the cultural icon with her signature factory uniform, red handkerchief and hard hat representing the American women who worked in factories during World War II, many of whom worked in the manufacturing plants that produced ammunition and war supplies.

“This is my 15th year. I do this to preserve history. A lot of people don’t know what women have done during the War. You really can learn from your past if you present the history and bring it to life and add your stories to it,” Galloway said. “Women built planes, worked in the shipyard, some served their country flying planes or as nurses. We need to be pass our history down to our younger generations.”

For the sisters, it’s a tradition.

“Military has been in our family since the Revolutionary War. The patriotism is passed down from generations to generations and that’s why we love it,” Galloway said.

Galloway also has reproductions of old World War II era paycheck stubs, war stamps, war bonds and gas rationing cards for her display. Her newest addition to her display is a rivet gun she bought off eBay for $45 that would have been used to build planes, for example, during the war.

This year, Smalley dressed as a World War II era woman on the homefront wearing 1940s work casual clothing. In the past, she has worn a women’s professional baseball uniform, which is now hanging as part of the Women on the Homefront display.

“I love baseball and that’s why I chose it. During the war, women played baseball. They wore the skirt and had to slide in the skirt. They even had to go to charm school to look and do the part. They were told it was their patriotic duty to get out there and get involved.”

Smalley’s professional baseball uniform was made by a company that makes authentic reproductions of actual uniforms used in World War II era.

“It has the 1940-style zipper on the side. It’s a reproduction but it’s authentic to the time period,” Smalley said. “It’s a Minnesota Millerettes uniform — maroon and pink. They had one of the worst records, but I chose it because of the Palestine colors — maroon — not for their record.”

To make her uniform more authentic, Galloway found her sister a pair of never-worn 1940s cleats at L&L Shoe Store, which has served residents in downtown Palestine since the store’s opening in 1934.

“I just happened to call L&L and asked if they happened to have a pair from that era, because it couldn’t hurt to ask. I couldn’t believe it when (John Schwab) got back on the phone and said he found two pairs upstairs!”

They bought the shoes for $5 a pair.

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