Maps lined one wall to allow World War II Gen. George S. Patton Jr. to stay abreast of where his troops were. Across the quarters sat well-read books, a Bible, cigars and several 78 RPM records that allowed the general to teach himself new languages.
Outside of a cot, closet and washstand, there was room for little else in the mobile combat headquarters Patton traveled with in Europe, Denny G. Hair said.
“The original mobile van is in Fort Knox. This is a perfect copy of it down to the last nuts and bolts,” said Hair, president and CEO of the nonprofit Patton’s Third Army Living Historians. “Theirs, the real Patton was in. But I like to say ours is better than theirs because you know why? Ours runs. We can actually play with it. All they can do it look at it.”
The mobile headquarters was part of a Third Army Headquarters recreated by living historians Saturday at Indian Spring Park, part of the Doris Miller Hometown Heroes Weekend. The weekend kicked off Thursday, Pearl Harbor Day, when more than 200 people watched the unveiling of a new bronze statue of Miller, the first African-American to win the Navy Cross. The 9-foot statue of the Waco-born World War II hero will eventually be positioned at the heart of the Doris Miller Memorial under construction at the riverside Bledsoe-Miller Park, which is expected to be dedicated in May.
Miller’s service in the Navy and Patton’s in the Army connect through more than a time in history, said Doreen Ravenscroft, a Cultural Arts of Waco official who has spearheaded the memorial effort.
The estate of William Travis Clarke Jr., who was honorably discharged in 1946 and served as the pharmacist for the Veterans Affairs hospital in Waco until he retired, donated $200,000 in 2015 for the memorial, she said.
The details of every display up Saturday were well researched and cared for, Ravenscroft said as she walked through one of the tents. Part of the mission of the new memorial is to help educate, and she hopes a group will step up to keep the living history events going, she said.
“I think it’s something that can grow,” she said. “I’m hoping this is something we can build and that the community would be interested in.”
Hair, a retired Houston police office, has spent the past three decades portraying Patton, a passion he discovered long before retirement. He has even written a book on Patton.
Patton’s tent-city command post consisted of 4,000 to 5,000 people regularly on the move, Hair said.
His mobile unit included two phones. One went directly to General Dwight D. Eisenhower, and the other went to General Omar Bradley.
“When we show these to kids, one of the things I was surprised by, especially the younger ones, they look at this (typewriter) and they recognize that’s a keyboard and they want to know where the screen is,” Hair said. “But then they don’t even know when World War II was fought or who it was fought with or why. They kind of grasp Pearl Harbor, but they’re not sure anymore.”
Among the displays Saturday, Victoria Owens, of College Station, educated guests on the often overlooked role that women played during past wars. Owens, part of the 139th Field Hospital Living Historians, has portrayed women in the armed forces over the past year.
She started after watching the movie “Pearl Harbor” “one too many times,” she said. She quickly learned the move to be a poor portrayal of war, but it spurred her passion to learn more about the role women played, Owens said.
“I feel like women got kind of a raw deal when it comes to re-enacting. I’m one of like three here in Texas that does nurse re-enacting in (Women’s Army Corps),” she said.
During World War I, nurses were considered civilian employees, not members of the military, so if a nurse was killed overseas, their body did not have to be sent back to North America, she said.
“It literally took an act of Congress in 1941 to give them relative rank,” Owens said. “They received half the pay of the men, half the housing allowance, half of everything.”
Owens is an EMT and working to become a military flight medic.
“I kind of want to know the history of where it came from,” she said.