Ach du lieber, trail runners!
One of the best things about trail running is you never know what you’ll see in the woods.
Hikers. Bird watchers. Rock collectors.
Nazis building a prison camp.
Yep, that was a new one today. I watched a few dozen men in Nazi uniforms stringing barbed wire on the edge of the woods, in plain daylight, while others set up a machine-gun nest.
I saw these guys this morning at Fort Harrison State Park, as I was finishing a five-mile run. Off to the side of the woods, in a clearing, just a few hundred feet off the trailhead, these guys were pitching tents and cooking on a campfire.
Of course, being the nosy blogger and reporter that I am, I had to run over and get a few photos, and see what in the name of Hermann Goering was going on.
“I come in peace,” I said, a bit nervously.
“That’s OK,” said a guy dressed as a Luftwaffe officer. “We’re pretty mellow ourselves right now. The battle doesn’t start until 2:00.”
“Battle? What battle?”
“Against the Russians. On the eastern front.”
Of course. What could be more obvious?
I asked a few more questions, and eventually discovered that these guys were re-enacting something called the Battle of the Caucasus from World War II, a major German military offensive against the Soviet Army in eastern Europe.
This little hootenanny was being organized by the Museum of 20th Century Warfare, something I had never heard of before.
Then again, I don’t usually pay attention to this kind of stuff. I’m not a big war buff. Like a lot of Americans my age, what I know of World War II comes chiefly from “Patton,” “Tora Tora Tora” and “Hogan’s Heroes.”
But these guys are hard-core military history types. They obviously like to spend their free time drilling, exercising and simulating combat situations.
So I decided to ask a few more questions. I felt a little like Ernie Pyle, even though I was wearing high-tech running gear, not Army fatigues.
“Where are the Russians?” I asked.
“They’re over on the other side of the woods. We haven’t seen them yet.”
The biggest guy was wearing a Nazi cap. He was still stringing barbed wire. On his bicep, he had a tattoo — also of barbed wire. But otherwise, he seemed pretty friendly, or as friendly as you can be while you’re building a Nazi prison camp.
I watched him set up the little stalag, or whatever it was called. Then walked across the field to talk to the rest of the Nazis, who were setting up a camp, with tents, a campfire and a gun nest.
“Hello,” I said. “Can I take your picture?”
They stopped what they were doing, stood in a line and smiled for me. Then I asked if one of them would take a photo of me with them. A young soldier took my camera and the others crowded beside me.
They were definitely the nicest Nazis I had ever met.
Just then, I saw the Russians, standing over in a parking lot near the outhouse. I said goodbye to the Nazis and ran over to talk to the Russians.
“Are you nervous about fighting the Nazis?” I said.
They laughed. “No, this is fun,” one answered.
Like the Nazis, they were in a surprisingly good mood, and let me snap a few photos.
“Do any of you speak any Russian?” I asked.
They all looked at one man, who was standing in their group. Not only could he speak Russian, but he was from St. Petersburg, Russia, and had served in the Soviet Army in the 1980s. He had a good Russian name, Pavel. And he looked pretty natural in his Russian army uniform.
“Good luck, guys,” I said.
“Stick around and watch,” one told me.
But I couldn’t. I had to get home.
Later on, I looked up the Battle of the Caucasus on the Internet. It turns out the Russians won. They didn’t need my luck, after all.
So where were the Americans during this battle? I read on. No American forces fought in the battle, I learned, but many Indiana companies supplied tanks, vehicles, aircraft, ammunition and arms to the Soviets.
“Thanks to Hoosier manufacturing, the Soviet army eventually defeated the Germans in the Caucasus,” according to a blurb I found on the web site.
Well, wasn’t that nice. Good old Hoosiers made the difference, and helped defeat the dirty Nazis.
I was never much a fan of war re-enactments, but Iwas kind of sorry I missed this one.
But I had a good run, and saw a few new things.
I guess there’s room in the woods for all of us.
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