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Ethan Krall of the 32nd Infantry Division | Reenactor Interview

1. Why did you choose your impression? 

I chose to portray a combat engineer from B Company, 114th Engineer Combat Battalion, 32nd Infantry Division because my grandfather served with this unit during WWII. I am also a new member to the Furious Fourth reenacting group, which portrays a mortar section from the 4th Infantry Division.

2. Can you tell us about your reenacting gear?

My gear is from my personal militaria collection which has all came from various flea markets and sales near my hometown. All of my field gear that I use is original. My uniforms are mostly reproductions from At The Front and WWII Impressions. I am currently waiting on a CMP M1 Garand but until I receive it I will borrow my friend's M1 for our events. 

Field Gear & Equipment:

Fixed Bale M1 Helmet
M1928 Haversack
M1923 Cartridge Belt
M1910 Shovel w/ carrier
M1924 First Aid Pouch
M1942 Canteen carrier
M1910 Canteen
M1942 Mess Kit w/ silverware
Shelter Half
First Pattern HBT Jacket and Trousers
"Rough Out" Service Shoes
M1938 Leggings
M1 Garand
M1 Bayonet
Mk. II Fragmentation Grenade

3. What's your favorite part of reenacting? 

My favorite part about reenacting is being able to pass on my grandfather's stories from when he served in WWII.

4. What group do you reenact with? 

This spring I formed a group to portray B Company, 114th Engineer Combat Battalion, 32nd Infantry Division along with my best friend. We have attended one public event so far this summer and plan to attend more. We are recruiting and looking for beginners or experienced reenactors who are interested in the unit history and who are looking to try something different, as groups portraying Pacific Theater units are far less common than units who served in the European Theater.

5. What have you learned from reenacting? 

From my first event I learned that being open and conversational with the public is key to making your display worthwhile. Even if the people you talk to aren't big WWII fans they will still greatly appreciate your knowledge and your display. Also, the conversations can be opportunities for you to learn something from the people you're talking to and possibly even talk to veterans.

6. Who's your favorite WWII hero? 

My favorite WWII hero hands down is my grandfather. He was a draftee and prior to Pearl Harbor was actually angered that he had to serve. Once Pearl Harbor happened, he then saw the purpose in his service. He served as a combat engineer but was often pressed into service as a regular infantryman due to firefights breaking out close to where the engineers worked during the New Guinea Campaign. He was a true citizen soldier. He stated after the war that he hated his time in the jungles of New Guinea, but would readily do it all again if his country needed him to. I got to know my grandfather very well as I grew up and was lucky enough to hear his stories. My grandfather John Henry Krall passed away in 2012, and ever since I have been building my collection, continuing my research, and began reenacting all to keep his stories and my memory of him alive.

7. What advice would you give to newbie reenactors? 

My advice for beginners looking to start reenacting would be to first thoroughly research the unit you want to portray. Investing the time in researching uniforms, weaponry, equipment, unit history or chronology of battle, photographs, etc. will make it easier for you to get it right from the start. Once you have your basis of historical knowledge, begin piecing together your impression. Perfecting it will take time and will come down to your own satisfaction, but do your best to be as correct as possible for your first event. Having a decent kit and knowledge of your unit's history for your first event will earn you a lot of respect from other reenactors and will make you a well-rounded reenactor overall.

Follow on Instagram: @wwii_rifleman

Learn about the 32nd Infantry Division:http://www.32nd-division.org/history/32hist.htm

Liberator of Dachau

I recently had the honor of meeting a hero at a WWII reenactment. Guy Prestia served with the 45th Infantry Division, the first liberators of Dachau concentration camp. I talked to a man who had seen the horrors of the Holocaust, who saw the gas chambers and piles of bodies. I talked to a liberator, a fighter, a hero. I would have loved to visit with him longer, but the reenactment was just about to begin. Thankfully, he told me about his video interview. It was amazing to hear about the liberation of Dachau in his own words.

(Photo via Ellwood City Ledger)

We had to take out four big towers with machine gunners up on top. The camp was run by Heinrich Himmler. He had left and taken a lot of the SS men with him, but he left a lot of guards there.

It was a terrible place. We were hardened soldiers. We had seen a lot of people die, we’d seen people wounded. But when we saw that, we could not understand ….

We weren’t allowed to give the people any food to eat. They were so undernourished that it would have killed them. We could give them cigarettes and we could give them candy but no food.

There were over 2,000 bodies on those rail cars that were being taken to the ovens to be cremated. We saw the gas chamber. When our people saw that, a lot of our guys cried, and a lot of them vomited. Many of us did both. We had never ever saw anything like that … we could never imagine human beings treating somebody else that badly.

When we liberated that place, there were over 31.000 at the camp. But there were thousands of them that were dead. People were sent into the gas chambers to take a shower. The water came on for a few seconds, then automatically the water turned off and then gas came through there. That gas was so poisonous that nobody survived more than eight minutes. We went into the chambers and saw everything. Some of the prisoners explained to us what happened. Some had blue and white pajamas. Some of them had a shirt, some didn’t have a shirt. A lot of them were just naked bodies all together. You could see all the ribs on them. They were so malnourished.

General Eisenhower had a lot of congressmen come over there to see the camps. His soldiers took photographs from Buchwald to Auschwitz and from all these other places. He said someday there will be people who won’t believe what happened here. And even today there’s a lot of people who don’t believe there ever was a holocaust. They think it was some sort of a story that was made up. The government got the citizens from that little town to do a lot of cleaning up at Dachau. They can’t say they didn’t know what was going on. Whenever you came near that place, when you saw the smoke coming out of those ovens and smelled that burning flesh, you knew there was something bad going on in there.

Every once in awhile, if I think about it, I can get that smell. It never leaves you. That burning flesh … you never forget about that.

Ride Through History

Over the weekend, my family and I went to the Ride Through History event in Alliance, Ohio. We had a really great time! There were reenactors portraying soldiers and civilians from the Revolutionary War all the way through to the Vietnam War. My sister and I went with our French resistance group and it was my first time in combat. I really wasn't nervous about being a German civilian with a purse chocked full of resistance leaflets the day before. But a French resistance fighter? I'm going to be really honest here ... that scared the heck out of me even, though I really wanted to try it. I was so nervous that I couldn't eat all day ... yeah, I haven't been that nervous about anything in a long time! 

I went into the reenactment feeling like I should know everything because everyone else knows what they're doing! But I'm learning to give myself some grace because that was the first time I ever stepped onto a battlefield while German machine guns were firing at me. =)

Thankfully, everyone was super nice and supportive, but I tend to have this interior dialogue going through my head (maybe a writer problem?) that made me overact and think: "I really don't know what I'm doing. I'm going to ruin the battle for everyone! They probably don't want me out on the battlefield because I HAVE NO CLUE WHAT I'M DOING." But after talking with some of my fellow reenactors, I realized that no one really knows what they're doing the first time they're in combat. It's just chaos and gun malfunctions and thinking you're in the wrong place at the wrong time, and guys showing you how to do gun stuff at a million miles per hour. 

There were three battles, so by the third one I was feeling pretty good about the whole thing and having a lot of fun!

We had briefings with the American and Germans before the battle that basically ended like this: "French resistance, you're gonna run across that road over there right into German machine gun fire and you all die." Ok ... great. 

The first time I died, I had the gun strap wrapped around my arm in military style. A German came over and yanked the gun away from me. It was too late to tell him my arm was attached to it. Then I was lying there and all of a sudden someone checked my pulse. Yeah, I kinda freaked out! I opened my eyes and could see it was a medic, so I went back to being dead. Also, some guy was flying a drone over us and it sounded like a swarm of flies around all the dead bodies. It was an eventful first death.

 The Maquis camp looked so authentic. Maquis mean bush/shrub in French, so having the camp in the middle of a very wooded area really set the scene!

 The Maquis looking so very serious.

 What is a smile?

Aww yeah airborne!!

Some video footage of the battle via 5th Rangers F-CO/325th GIR.

 While I was fighting, Haley got to see all of the displays and battles.

It was so much fun and I definitely learned a lot! 


Ruhr Pocket Train Battle

I'm being lazy today because I was a German civilian who was arrested by Nazis on Saturday, and a French resistance fighter for the first time on Sunday. It took a lot out of this introvert, but it was so worth it! Whew! What a weekend full of old and new friends, lots of traveling and trying new things. Since I haven't even started editing the French resistance pictures yet, I'll start off with the train battle and explain why I was interrogated by a Nazi. 

My sister and I went with our reenacting group to portray German civilians during the Ruhr Pocket Train Battle in Titusville, PA. Haley did a BDM (League of German Girls) impression and my impression was inspired by Sophie Scholl. I made White Rose resistance leaflets and passed them to spectators on the train. I even wore White Rose earrings! (Thanks, Morgan!) 

Waiting for the train to begin boarding ... 

There were some rowdy American POW's aboard. They created quite a scene!

And Haley was stuck beside them! She looks thrilled. 

Passing out leaflets .... 

My own sister turned me in! You can't trust those BDM girls. But something funny happened when the officer was coming to find me. The little boy across the aisle (who I had given a leaflet to) shouted and pointed at Haley: "She's a spy!" The officer checked Haley's papers, and said everything was in order. Then he turned to me.

"You. Come with me." 

No matter how many times I pleaded and said the leaflets weren't mine, the German officer said I had to come with him. "Nein! It's not mine! Someone gave it to me!" 

He took me to another officer who interrogated me. It was a bit intimidating!

He ask me a lot of questions and I had to come up with things on the spot ... probably not all historically accurate but I didn't know what else to say!

"What is your name?" Greta Von Essen.
"Where are you from?" Munich. Please, someone gave this to me. It's not mine!
"Who gave it to you?" I ... I don't remember ...
"Don't you know this leaflet could get you in a lot of trouble?" Yes. But it's not mine.
"Are you a member of the party?" (I show him the picture of my "boyfriend" Fritz) This is my boyfriend. He's in the student medical company in Munich. I am a loyal citizen of the Reich. 
"Loyal citizen? I see. Is he serving on the front?" Yes.
"Eastern or Western?" Eastern.
"How many years?" A year and a half.
"Is he still alive." Yes.
"Are your parents still alive?" Nein.
"How did they die?" They were killed in the air raids. 
"What was your business in Berlin?" I was visiting friends. 
Stands up and hands the leaflet to the officer who arrested me. "Burn this." Turns to me. "I'm letting you go this time." 

"Thanks for turning me in. That was fun."

The train was rumored to have gold stolen from France on-board, and the Allies got wind of it.  The train stopped and their was a mini battle that ended with an Allied victory.

It was such a fun day and I'm looking forward to getting arrested next year! =)