Military Re-Enactors at Old Fort MacArthur
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the Irish War of Independence. In April 1916 a group of volunteers took over the Dublin Post Office, were captured and executed by the British. Yesterday, I went by myself (Martine not feeling well) to the Old Fort MacArthur days in San Pedro.
Present was a group of military re-enactors modeled on the West Cork Flying Column commanded by Thomas Barry (as described in his excellent Guerilla Days in Ireland: A Personal Account of the Anglo-Irish War). I have run across this group before and admire their knowledge of their country’s history and their adherence to verisimilitude. Also, they have the best music by far of any group at the show.
The Irish War of Independence went on until December 1921 when the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty created the Irish Free State.
Saturday Was That Perfect Day
When Martine and I were at Old Fort MacArthur on Saturday, we had a perfect view of Catalina. It was the first time in all my years in Southern California that I was able to see the entire island at once from the mainland. That indentation toward the right of the island is the Two Harbors area, which came across crystal clear.
The island not only looked clearer, but also closer, almost ten miles closer than it usually does. The point from which I took the above picture is probably the closest point on the mainland, give or take a few hundred feet, to the island, which is some twenty-odd miles off shore.
From Left to Right: Hideki Tojo, Douglas MacArthur, Ulysses S Grant, and Teddy Roosevelt
One would never expect to run into the above four gentlemen in 2015 unless it were at a military re-enactment such as the annual one at Old Fort MacArthur Days in San Pedro, California.
There are several reasons why I am interested in attending this event:
- I am a history aficionado who delights in learning. As a result of a visit to the West Cork Flying Column of the IRA, I have begun reading Tom Barry’s Guerilla Days in Ireland (1949).
- Many of the units impersonating groups before the days of heavy armaments in war also practice ironwork, weaving, herbal medicine, obscure musical instruments, and other arts that have disappeared in this post-industrial world … with interesting results.
- Many of the groups really get into the role they are supposed to be playing, such as the World War Two Russian troops with their cans of CPAM (Spam) from Lend-Lease and the various Roman legion groups, one with the Emperor Hadrian and the other with the Emperor Vespasian.
What I do not like are the actual battle re-enactments, which are noisy, smelly, and not terribly realistic. But then I would not like to see real bodies littering the hillside. Instead, Martine and I like to circulate among the different groups and talk to the enactors at their encampments.
Martine, for instance, spent some time talking to the ladies from the Salvation Army, circa 1917-1918, as they offered donuts to the doughboys. I spent much of my time with the Clan MacColin (about which more in a future posting), the West Cork Flying Column (from the Irish Rebellion), and various Civil War groups.
Lou Lopez, Coordinator of Old Fort MacArthur Days
Everyone liked making fun of him, but he ran a tight ship at Old Fort MacArthur Days. Lou Lopez had been in charge of the event since 2000, and Martine and I were expecting to see him again yesterday behind the microphone trying to keep the straggling event together.
Only, we did not see him this time. Apparently, last month, he—such a lover of history—had himself passed into history on the morning of June 18.
I did not know him personally, and he certainly did not know Martine or me. He was one of those little guys that people joked about, but always with a feeling of affection and grudging respect.
It became evident yesterday at the parade of military units, always a feature at these events. It always began with the ancient Roman legions and ended with units from the Korean and Vietnamese conflicts. The public address system was haunted. It was used to conveying Lou Lopez’s voice over the air, but didn’t quite acknowledge his replacement.
In the meantime, Lou, in his traditional garb of the U.S. forces in Cuba, was off somewhere charging up San Juan Hill with Teddy Roosevelt.
The Nice Lady from the Legio X Fretensis
Martine and I love attending the large military re-enactment encampment at Old Fort MacArthur in San Pedro. Last year we missed it because I was still in Iceland, but today we spent the whole day at the Old Fort MacArthur Days event. It’s not that we were interested in the shooting events with all their noise and smoke: It’s just that it feels like walking through history.
The Legio X Fretensis (“of the sea strait”) actually existed. It was established by Augustus (then called Octavius) Caesar around 40 or 41 B.C. to fight during the Roman civil war. It lasted almost 500 years, fighting in the civil war that saw the end of the Roman Republic, plus two of the Roman-Jewish wars in Palestine. Some elements of it fought with Marcus Aurelius.
In San Pedro, the members we saw belong to a group that calls itself an “educational service organization” whose purpose is to instruct people about the Roman army, particularly in the First Century A.D. I enjoyed stopping by their tent for a few minutes to talk to the well-informed lady pictured above. As you may or may note know, I am a Roman history nut who has read all the works of Tacitus and many of his contemporaries. I am always delighted to find people who not only are well read in the subject, but can add to my knowledge.
During the next few days, you will see a few more postings about some of the things we saw during the re-enactment. By the way, Old Fort MacArthur is not named after General Douglas MacArthur, but after his father, General Arthur MacArthur, Jr., who was Governor-General of the Philippines after the Spanish American War. It seems to me his son also had some dealings with that particular archipelago….