Scenes of wars gone by return to fort

Visitors get a vivid picture of U.S. troops through the years

By Dave Kern, Columbian assistant metro editor

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Learn about events at the Fort Vancouver National Site:

www.nps.gov/fova

With the cry of “Fire!” six Civil War soldiers’ muskets roared to life and enveloped them in a cloud of smoke.

Cheers greeted the exhibition at the Fort Vancouver National Site, punctuated by a 3-year-old boy’s shouting, “That was awesome.”

Re-enactors were the stars over the weekend, offering scenes from the Civil War to World War II during the annual Soldiers Bivouac.

Wayne Frye, a retired Forest Service worker from Ocean Park, appeared Sunday as a captain in the 1st Oregon Volunteer Infantry. That unit came through Fort Vancouver from 1864 to 1866, he said. The Army had arrived at the fort in 1849.

Frye ordered his soldiers to demonstrate how to load and fire their 1853 British Enfield rifles. Although biting off the end of a paper cartridge and ramming the powder and lead miniball looked cumbersome, Frye said, soldiers could get off three shots in a minute during battle.

“The idea was to get a lot of lead down the field in a hurry,” Frye told about 20 onlookers on the Parade Ground.

To prove his point, he told the six to see if they could load and fire three shots in 60 seconds. It took five of them about 79 seconds, but one soldier’s rammer stuck. Dan Gering of Tigard, Ore., turned to crowd after the smoke dissipated and announced, “Just picture me dead.”

Frye said he has been a re-enactor for 16 years and enjoys performing. He looked the part in a Union officer’s woolen frock coat and cap, 1850 foot officer’s sword, 1861 Navy Colt pistol, and sky-blue trousers with dark blue piping.

He advised people interested in re-enacting the Civil War to visit http://www.1stovi-20thmaine.org.

South of the musket fire, Mike Bailey, 54, of Klamath Falls, Ore., was telling visitors about World War II life. As part of an engineering company, he stood outside a M1936 squad tent, big enough for eight soldiers.

There was a hitch, he explained.

“A squad in World War II was 12 men, so they crammed 12 men into an eight-man tent. Stayed warm at night.”

Asked why an electronics engineer would travel from Klamath Falls to Vancouver for an event, Bailey said, “To find a way to remember and honor our veterans. It’s through their efforts that we are enjoying the benefits. Second, I loved to play Army as a kid and I didn’t want to stop.”

His son, Sam Bailey, 24, of Albany, Ore., smiled as he held his 5-month-old son, Colin.

“It’s fun to come here and see him do it,” Sam Bailey said of his father. The son is a Marine who recently finished a tour of duty in Iraq.

Mike Bailey noted that equipment was issued to soldiers coming through Vancouver Barracks headed to Fort Lewis.

That equipment included uniforms, foot lockers, bed rolls, rifles, packs, combat suspenders and cartridge belts.

Nearby, Army veteran Ken Carlson, 55, was showing his 1942 Willys-Overland quarter-ton truck, which most would call a Jeep. Carlson found the vehicle two years ago in Scappoose, Ore., and has spent two years restoring the “War Dog.” He said 650,000 of the trucks were made during World War II.

Fort Vancouver Ranger Doug Halsey said the weekend of activities met its goal of educating people — approximately 400 of them — about the troops that moved through Vancouver Barracks over the nine decades from the one war to the other.