First envisioned as a small living history display and battle re-enactment, the inaugural William W. Perkins Memorial Weekend has evolved into a two-day event which will honor those who served in World War II.
Organizers and history buffs Robert Reynolds and his wife, Charlotte, of Denham Springs, have been interviewing World War II veterans in their free time for about a year and a half.
“We just wanted to get their stories down,” Reynolds said. “You know, we’re losing them at a high rate, but also we plan on releasing them (the stories) in a book in the future and we wanted to get the average person’s stories. Most of the books you read on World War II are about generals or Medal of Honor winners, so that’s why we started doing that.”
From these interviews and talking to re-enactors at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, the wheels began turning for this first event. The Reynolds spend the third Saturday of each month at the museum as members of the Living History Corps.
“We wear period uniforms. It’s an added dimension for the patrons of the museum,” Reynolds said.
“We decided we wanted to honor the men and women, mainly, because through those interviews and meeting those veterans we wanted to do something nice for them. So that’s how the event evolved into a whole day honoring them,” Reynolds said.
“One of the veterans that we interviewed and we became really close with was Mr. William W. Perkins, who lived in Denham Springs. Our whole stint with him, the time we interviewed him, was probably 24 hours, but he had an impact on Charlotte and I, and he passed away on Memorial Day (2012), so we just felt that it was fitting to name the event after him. He was a Purple Heart winner, and also a Bronze Star recipient.”
Festivities get under way at 7 p.m. Friday at the Old South Jamboree with a USO/Swing Dance.
“We’re doing an Abbott and Costello radio show which originally aired March 16, 1944, and Spotlight Theater will be performing it,” Reynolds said. “It’s going to be performed as a live radio play, so all the actors and actresses will be standing on stage with scripts in their hands, and we’ll have a sound effects guy, and a guy named Jeremy Downey will be playing the organ. They’re won’t be any props or sets.”
Actor Fred Lehman will perform as Bob Hope in a six-minute piece taken from an old radio broadcast from the Hollywood Canteen during the war. Local eight-piece swing band Rosie and the Swinging Riveters, in which Reynolds plays drums, will present a tribute to the Andrews Sisters with a vocal trio, followed by Tracy Ardoin’s tribute to singer Peggy Lee. The Riveters will play for about an hour after that.
“The money raised will be given to the Louisiana War Veterans Home in Jackson,” Reynolds said.
Gates open at 9 a.m. Saturday at Sidney Hutchinson Memorial Park.
The Naval Sea Cadets of Baton Rouge will post colors, and the Livingston Parish Children’s Choirs will perform for the opening, Reynolds said.
“We’ll honor veterans and Perkins family,” he said. “We’ll have Axis and Allied encampments, so people can see how they camped in the field.”
Seventy re-enactors from Texas, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida will don period uniforms, including those of Russian and German forces, for firing demonstrations, a small skirmish at 11 a.m. and the main battle reenactment at 3 p.m.
“The re-enactors are really excited about it, because the closest public event like what we’re doing is in Waxahachie, Texas, just below Dallas,” Reynolds said.
Music will be by the Platinum Sound Orchestra at 11:30 a.m. and Anita LeBlanc and Downey at 1:30 p.m.
Participants at the park event also will include the Women Veterans of Louisiana, Stabs Kompanie, Venture Crew of the 506th, the USS Kidd, Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office, Steel Soldiers, Louisiana Motor Pool, Camp Van Dorn WWII Museum, Centreville Miss.; Louisiana Veterans Administration and the Louisiana National Guard, among others.
“The Guard will have a large tent for veterans, so people can meet them, thank them for their service and hear their stories,” he said. “The hope is that it’s going to be a yearly event, and that the city is going to take the sponsorship. I can’t imagine them not wanting to continue because I think it is going to be a success.”