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Camp Clutter
Joe Miller, right, and Doug Anderson survey camp clutter that will be arrayed at the living history airfield at AirVenture 2013. A piece of radial engine cowl provides the basis for the camp kitchen sign. Various cans and the ubiquitous airfield bicycle all lend atmosphere to the scene. (photo by Frederick A. Johnsen)
Camp Clutter
Doug Anderson lofted the Plexiglas dome of a World War II aircraft turret that is part of the 'Camp Clutter' cultivated by the Warbirds Living History Group to add atmosphere to their historical tent city in the Warbirds area at AirVenture. (photo by Frederick A. Johnsen)

By Frederick A. Johnsen

July 29, 2013 - They nickname it Camp Clutter.

Ammunition crates, bomb fins, parts and pieces for a gun turret, engine cowl panels, and bits of military debris.

And they cherish it.

This stuff is not for the dump; it's for effect.

The EAA Warbirds Living History Group sets up camp each year in the Warbirds area at EAA Oshkosh, using vintage tents, mess equipment, uniforms, and gear to depict life for World War II fliers and ground troops.

Similar to Civil War re-enactment groups, the Warbirds re-enactors animate the pages of history as they go about life at Miller Field, their base on the fly-in site.

Miller Field is named with a tip of the 50-mission-crush hat to 90-year-old Joe Miller, a WWII veteran who comes to Oshkosh from Pennsylvania to support the camp.

"I'm their mentor," explains Joe, wearing a rugged Army Air Forces A-2 flying jacket. He helps with providing meals during the week, and is not shy about hitting people up for support of the Living History Group.

Whenever Joe is at the encampment, it is clear he is the revered grand old man of the site. He flew B-25 Mitchell medium bombers in the Pacific under the auspices of the Thirteenth Air Force. There, B-25s were adapted for strafing, becoming deadly gunships with as many as 14 forward-firing .50-caliber machine guns. "We had little parabombs we dropped," Joe explains.

These "little parabombs" were fragmentation bombs whose travel to the ground was delayed by a small parachute, allowing the Mitchells to drop them from minimum altitude and still speed safely away before the bombs detonated.

Doug Anderson from Wisconsin Rapids serves as acting camp commander when the official commander is absent - the re-enactors adhere to a realistic military hierarchy as they flesh out WWII life.

But he's not stuffy about rank. "We've got a good group," Doug says. "Everybody works well together."

Some of the re-enactors bring their own equipment to add realism to the scene. "We enjoy showing off our collections," Doug says.

Doug quickly identifies the camp's tents based on their vintage and intended use. He says the group could use more pyramid-style tents. And that could happen; visitors often donate items to the group to embellish the camp.

"Most of this stuff was donated to us," Doug explains. It is carefully stored until needed for recreations like Miller Field, he says.

People come from many states, Canada, and even England to participate in the living history encampment at AirVenture, not unlike the melting pot of Allied nations during the war. Their presence invigorates this living tribute to a time that is becoming increasingly remote - and with a shrinking population of veteran participants.

Bringing that era alive motivates the re-enactors even as it educates and fascinates visitors from the world of 2013.


FUTURE AIRVENTURE DATES: 2014: July 28-Aug. 3; 2015: July 20-26; 2016: July 25-31; 2017: July 24-30
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