PHILLIPS — Scenes from World War II were played out here Saturday as the volunteer Massachusetts-based Airborne Reenactors of Baker Company portrayed fierce Allied combat as it unfolded June 6, 1944, in German-controlled territory.

The reenactment was witnessed from the seats in a railcar, as groups of visitors in shorts, sneakers and straw hats climbed aboard two passenger cars at the Sandy River and Rangeley Lakes Railroad Museum.

Although last week’s media coverage of the Allied liberation of German-held France focused on the 75th anniversary of D-Day and the invasion of Normandy beaches on June 6, 1944, expanding the beachhead and ultimately re-taking France involved several countries and thousands of Allied troops, ships and planes battling for more than a month.

Reenactors gave visitors a sense of what that time may have been like for Allied soldiers and the people of France.

Wearing historically accurate uniforms of German soldiers, the reenactors checked passengers’ tickets and announced the train was carrying military maps and documents that Allied troops desperately wanted.

“This officer, in his briefcase, has all of the maps and timetables captured from an American paratrooper,” said 25-year veteran reenactor Norman Harbison, who leads WW II living history events around New England.

On June 7, 1944, soldiers from the U.S. Army’s 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment, Company B, 101st Airborne, fought Germans to recover those documents, and passengers on the train in Phillips Saturday could see and hear what soldiers experienced in that time, including gunfire and hand-to-hand combat.

Vincent Milano, of Farmington, New Hampshire, explained that the group takes on whichever part, called an “impression,” that fits individual historical events. He was playing the part of an older German soldier, he said.

“Somebody’s got to be the bad guys,” he said. “We all play different parts, depending on what’s needed.”

Milano said many popular Hollywood movies, like Saving Private Ryan, helped subsequent generations understand the sacrifices of war, but they also have perpetuated myths and inaccuracies.

“This particular German unit caused a lot of hiccups in the American timetable,” he said. “They knew exactly where the Allies were going to land.”

D-Day, the largest seaborne invasion in history, launched the Battle of Normandy, successfully opening a second Allied front in Nazi-occupied Europe. The battle there lasted until mid-July of 1944.

The Massachusetts reenactors are part of a group of living historians who are dedicated to educating the public about American soldiers’ experience during WW II, with a mission to “Honor and Educate.”

In addition to reenactments, the volunteers offer school programs and other hands-on presentations. For more information about the group, go to:


Reenactor Norman Harbison, right, of the Massachusetts-based Airborne Reenactors, portrays a German military officer from the World War II battle between Allied troops and German soldiers on June 6, 1944, known as D-Day, giving visitors a first-hand view of the fierce combat and the eventual breakthrough in German-controlled France. Valerie Tucker photo


At the Sandy River and Rangeley Lakes Railroad Museum in Phillips on Saturday, reenactor Norman Harbison of the volunteer Massachusetts-based Airborne Reenactors, played the part of a German soldier captured and shot by Allied troops when he refused to surrender a satchel of critical maps and top-secret documents June 6, 1944, as the Battle of Norman unfolded. Valerie Tucker photo

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: