‘Delaware Goes to War’ a success on all fronts

LEWES – Scores of people took Delaware State Parks shuttle transit to and from Delaware Goes to War at Fort Miles in Cape Henlopen State Park Saturday.

State of Maine resident William Gibson was among the few who didn’t.

The 92-year-old World War II Navy veteran received special VIP treatment – a ride in a military jeep, accompanied by several family members who live upstate in Wilmington – to experience the sights and sounds and living history re-enactments.

Military veterans drew special salutes and historic Fort Miles and America’s wartime home-front were the forefront theme for the April 28 extravaganza. It was staged through collaboration of the Delaware State Parks, Fort Miles Historical Association and FMHA’s Bunker Busters, and the Harbor Defenses of the Delaware Living History Association and other re-enactors.

“I would like to thank everyone on behalf of FMHA for a wonderful day,” said Fort Miles Historical Association President Dr. Gary Wray in a congratulatory email to participating groups. “The weather cooperated and really helped us, and thousands of folks enjoyed the experience of ‘Delaware Goes to War!’”

This year’s event featured 19 military vehicles and 90 living history re-enactors, including 15 women – more than ever before – as well as sights and sounds of WWII through vast period-authentic memorabilia displays, music, swing dancing, a wartime radio personality and tours of Battery 519.

“On behalf of the Fort Miles Historical Association, the Harbor Defenses of the Delaware Living History Association and all of the re-enactors, we want to thank you for coming out and supporting the effort to make Fort Miles one of the best World War II museums in the country,” said Mike Hills, chaplain for the Harbor Defenses of the Delaware re-enactment group.

Attendance for the six-hour event surpassed 2,000. “The goal was 2,000,” said Dr. Donald Hattier, staff sergeant with the Harbor Defenses of the Delaware Living History Association.

Dr. Hattier noted that 1,500-plus people toured Battery 519, which has been transformed into an incredible wartime museum showcase.

Many ears were plugged as one of the fort’s 3-inch guns blasted away in a pair of artillery demonstrations.

Ears were wide open for the event’s traditional staging of the surrender of German submarine U-858, which in early May 1945 – with Adolph Hitler dead and Nazi Germany facing inevitable defeat – was escorted to Fort Miles after making initial contact with U.S. Naval forces several days earlier.

U-858’s official surrender to the U.S. Army occurred at the fishing pier at Fort Miles. The submarine was the first German warship to surrender to U.S. forces.

“On May 14, 1945, U-858 made history in the fact that it became the first enemy vessel to surrender to U.S. Forces since the War of 1812,” said Mr. Hills.

At about the time of U-858’s surrender, Frank Hopson, a 90-year-old WWII/Korean War veteran from Selbyville, was just beginning a U.S. Army military career that would not end until 1973. Saturday, he rode the shuttle with family but then was invited to hop on a golf cart for personal escort to his sightseeing destination.

“Technically, I am a WWII veteran, but the hostilities were all over,” said Mr. Hopson, who saw action in Korea. “We went into Inchon and we went all the way to Pyongyang and all the way to the Yalu River. And then they ran us right back down to the other end, when the Chinese intervened …”

People came from all over to attend the event. Alex Rybak, a resident of the Ukraine who was in America visiting family, probably had the most faraway residence. On behalf of the Harbor Defenses group, Mr. Hills presented Mr. Rybak with a special commemorative coin.

This year’s Delaware Goes to War showcased a noticeable youth movement.

Scouts from Milford-based Boy Scout Troop 186 not only manned the snack bar but were “drafted” to serve as the German crew in the surrender of U-858. Dr. Hattier called that re-enactment “a smashing success.”

In one of the cantonment buildings were young living history re-enactors with ties to the Boy Scouts of America’s Venturing, an outdoor, high-adventure co-ed program for ages 14-21. Among them was Dylan Hoffman, an 18-year-old high school senior from Nazareth, Pa. He is the president of his local re-enactment group.

“I reenact the 45th Infantry division,” he said. “We (the 45th) fought all through the European Theatre. We fought in the Italian Theatre through southern France into Germany. Our unit liberated the Dachau concentration camp.”

Dylan says he was bitten by the military history bug back in grade school when he read a Royal Air Force Spitfire pilot’s autobiography. “I’ve been a living historian for about four years,” he said.

Delaware Goes to War is by far Dylan’s preferential favorite.

“As far as Fort Miles, what brings us here; this is my personal favorite event actually. This is a great event,” he said. “I’ve been to a lot of places and done a lot of things, but this event is special. Everybody here really cares about what they are doing. There is definitely a mission behind this whole thing, restoring Battery 519 and really showing the history. Everybody here, they have a standard of accuracy. They really do,” he said.

“And even though you see the people only one or two weekends a year it really is like family whenever you come down here,” said Dylan. “It really is. It’s great.”

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.