One of the most popular history events of its kind will take place Sept. 18 & 19 when Midway Village Museum presents its 25th World War II Days. The military re-enactment began with about 100 local re-enactors who approached the museum with their idea and needed a venue to showcase World War II history. The initial concept grew into the largest World War II re-enactment in the Midwest with up to 1,200 re-enactors from across the country participating annually.
“These re-enactors partner with the museum to authentically feature what life was like for both soldiers and civilians in Europe and on the home front during World War II,” says Lonna Converso, director of marketing & social media at Midway Village Museum. “The community is fortunate to have a passionate group of individuals wanting to help the museum produce a quality, history event that resonates with many individuals.”
The war has special local relevance because Camp Grant, then one of the largest World War II training camps in the nation, was located just south of Rockford and had frequent interaction with residents.
“The direct ties with our community make the re-enactment a very personal experience since the war itself was an important part of our local history,” says Converso. “We have so many people tell us, ‘My grandparents met at Camp Grant’ or they share some other special family memory of it.”
Hours for World War II Days are Saturday, Sept. 18 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, Sept. 19 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The museum is located at 6799 Guilford Road, Rockford.
This year, admission to both days of the event is free to U.S. veterans and to active-duty military members. No pre-admission is required and veterans may enter early on Saturday at 9 a.m. at the Water Tower Gate off of the rec path parking area. Family members may accompany veterans with the purchase of regular general admission.
During World War II Days, the 148-acre museum campus is transformed into a 1940s wartime European village and battlefield. Uniformed re-enactors represent soldiers from the U.S., Great Britain, France, Poland, Ukraine, Russia, Japan, Italy and Germany. They bring with them 1940s vintage military vehicles such as tanks, half-tracks and jeeps used by both Allied and Axis militaries. The re-enactors set up realistic encampments throughout the property that visitors can view and they participate in four narrated battles on Saturday and two on Sunday, as well as skirmishes in the woods. The battles involve tanks, artillery and armored vehicles and make use of pyrotechnics.
Other re-enactors will participate in the event, too, such as civilians, nurses, French Resistance fighters and USO workers. Historical vignettes will play out across the grounds and an Andrew Sisters tribute concert will be performed by Sweet Reminder at the village gazebo.
Several talks will be presented by experts on subjects including D-Day, Pearl Harbor, Rockford Holocaust Survivors, What Americans Knew and Smoky the War Dog. A narrated uniform fashion show will take place at 2:15 p.m. Sunday before the final battle and closing ceremony.
A World War II-era model airplane display will be expanded this year with more than 40 models and narration presented by members of the Rock Valley R/C Flyers Club.
“These handcrafted model airplanes are extremely detailed right down to the insignias on the planes,” says Converso. “The impressive and elaborate display features both Allied and Axis aircraft.”
New this year is a Victory Beer Garden hosted by Pig Minds Brewing Co., where beer and vegan brats will be sold. Other vendors will sell food and beverages on the grounds as well.
Vendors of militaria – reproduction World War II military merchandise – will again sell their wares.
Visitor admission costs $16 for adults, $9 for children ages 3-17 and is free to museum members and children ages 2 and younger. Purchase tickets in advance online or at the gift store; tickets also can be purchased at the gates on the days of the event.
Golf cart shuttles and a VETANK are available to people with special needs or limited mobility.
Visitors are welcome to wear 1940s civilian clothing if their visitor sticker is displayed, but only registered re-enactors may wear World War II uniforms.
The museum will follow whatever state health guidelines are in place on event days.
Sponsors and partners include Woodward, Anderson Toyota, Beth & Rudnicki Insurance Agency, International Brotherhood Electrical Workers, Midland Wealth Management, Midland States Bank, WIPFLI, Pig Minds and Dady Law Group.
“It’s a day to come out and learn about history in an entertaining way that’s all wrapped up in an immersive experience,” says Converso.
Learn more at midwayvillage.com or call (815) 397-9112. ❚