Tim O’Connor has grown up surrounded by history. It only makes sense that he would help bring it back to life.
For the second consecutive year, Historic Waxahachie Inc. has teamed up with the Ellis County Museum, the Waxahachie Downtown Merchants and Veterans Day reenactors to host, “Operation: Hands-On History,” a day-long event that shows residents what life was like during World War II. The event ends with a mock battle between approximately 130 Allied and Axis troops in downtown Waxahachie.
O’Connor was one of the re-enactors himself before he became the event coordinator. O’Connor said he first became acquainted with the Veterans Day reenactors four years ago when he first moved to Waxahachie.
“I happened to be down at the food store, and ran into the same guys setting up camp,” O’Connor recalled. “I got invited to participate. Next year, I was part of a unit.”
With his father being a history teacher for 32 years, O’Connor has a fondness for the past and prides himself with a collection of WWII artifacts that his father gave him. The re-enactment seemed appealing to him — mostly because of how it drew him closer to what his ancestors might have gone through.
“My dad used to bring a lot of things to school for displays and such,” he recalled. “But actually having to run and fight in all that gear? Just the weight and the different types of materials it was versus what modern equipment is like. It put into perspective how hard it was for our grandfathers and great-grandfathers to put forth that effort with the equipment that they did have.”
He added, ”If you take 60 pounds of canvassed, wool leather and dump a bucket of water on it, then you’d be carrying another 15 to 20 pounds just sopping wet. That’s what your great-grandfathers did.”
Nowadays, O’Connor works as one of the four safety monitors for the reenactments, making sure all the participants are safe and halting the battle if any serious injuries occurred.
O’Connor said while no serious injuries have happened before, that doesn’t mean actors don’t get a few cuts and bruises.
“Two years ago, I took a tumble,” he said. “Shaved my knee. We’ve had some trips and falls and things like that; something you would normally expect. We lose ego and a little bit of blood, that’s about it.”
O’Connor said one of his favorite things about the reenactment is the involvement of kids. For instance, they’re bringing back a letter-writing campaign from the previous year where students write to one of the reenacting units.
“Last year, it was elementary-aged kids that were writing letters to one of the reenactment groups,” O’Connor recalled. “They were writing them as if they were writing to WWII soldiers overseas, and the unit wrote back to them.”
O’Connor said many of the reenactors are actual veterans, which includes the event coordinator he took over for who was a commissioned officer in the U.S. Navy.
He said that the reenactors take a lot of pride in their work and how they keep history alive for Waxahachie.
“Instead of saying ‘reenactor,’ they’d like to say they’re ‘living historians,’” he said. “They research. They collect. They put together the gear in the correct manner, so it’s represented well. They want this to represent the actual history and give honor to the veterans who actually fought and lived this out, trying to keep their history and memory alive.”
The Allied and Axis forces will set up camp Friday afternoon, and the battle will commence 3:30 p.m. Saturday. There will also be a meet-and-greet with WWII veterans at the Ellis County Museum and a chance to tour the reenactors' camps and Ellis County Courthouse.
“I try to do more hands-on history, not just have it fitted in a museum behind a piece of glass with a placard,” O’Connor stated. “Instead, this is a piece of history.”
David Dunn, @DavidDunnInTX