Armed Forces Day for oglers, learners


May 16, 1993|By Adriane B. Miller | Adriane B. Miller,Contributing Writer

Kids ogled rockets, missiles and cannons. Curious visitor checked out automated robots, military vehicles from World War I to the present, parachuting soldiers and leaping frogs. Families took in an Army chorus's marching songs and ballads.

As Aberdeen Proving Ground opened its gates for its annual Armed Forces Day yesterday, post officials said 10,000 visitors from Maryland and neighboring states attended.

Scoutmaster Doug Haar brought 29 Boy Scouts from Troop 33 in East Petersburg, Pa.

"They didn't know what to expect, but they are looking forward to all the festivities," Mr. Haar said.

The grade-school-age Scouts darted among the displays of rockets, missiles and cannons in front of the U.S. Army Ordnance Museum.

The post also opened some usually restricted facilities as part of Harford County's Military Appreciation Week, sponsored by the the Chamber of Commerce for the 16th consecutive year.

Throughout the sun-drenched, breezy day, buses carried civilians to see the Combat Systems Test Activity area, including vibration and robotics test facilities and what the post calls "the world's most diverse automated test course."

Visitors also got a chance to view about 60 restored vintage military vehicles, from World War I to the present. The vehicles were assembled by the Washington Area Collectors of Military Vehicles of Warrenton, Va., and the Blue & Gray Military Vehicle Trust of Frederick.

Meanwhile, the "All American Chorus," a 30-member group from the Army's 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C., performed marching songs and ballads at the Ordnance Museum.

Inside the museum, visitors saw exhibits showing the work of APG's agencies and new technologies researched and tested at the post.

In the Army Research Laboratory exhibit, a spokesman explained how the Patriot missile fuse was made and tested at APG. The Patriot intercepted and destroyed Iraqi Scud missiles during the Persian Gulf war.

Also inside the Ordnance Museum, visitors admired Perryman resident Lori Maurer's "Yellow Ribbon Quilt," an 8-foot-tall piece of art.

Ms. Maurer's quilt commemorates the "American public's response to Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm" with scores of yellow ribbons on a green background.

Outside the museum, visitors took in military dog demonstrations and watched soldiers parachute and rappel.

Among the more popular morning events was the 14th annual frog-jumping competition. Frogs and their child trainers jumped across a yellow tarp to see who could leap the farthest in the shortest time.

The biggest trophy for the farthest-jumping frog went to 21-month-old David Wernig of Belcamp. Since his trophy was nearly as big as David, David's parents, Phil and Barbara Wernig and grandmother, Jean Walker of Edgewood, helped him carry the trophy and winning frog home.

Visitors enjoyed ice cream, hot dogs and sodas and strolled among the military vehicles in the grass. Meanwhile, a group of about 200 enthusiasts dressed in 18th-century soldier uniforms prepared for battle.

John Nichols of Newhall, Pa., came dressed as a Revolutionary ** War soldier. He spent the morning with others who re-enacted historic battles, prepared their weapons and enjoyed the cool grass under the trees behind the museum.

"I like to forget the 20th century, video games and all the problems going on," Mr. Nichols said. "We get out and pretend what it would be like to be on the field with what they had back then."

Later, Mr. Nichols joined the rest of the 38th Regiment Foot Infantry in battling "British soldiers." Women in period costume carried water to the parched men.

Re-enacting a battle is a thirsty business, said Kay Herb of Lansdale, Pa.

"Our guys in the 20th century are just as liable to drop from heat exhaustion as the ones from the 18th century," Ms. Herb said.

William F. Atwater, director of the Ordnance Museum, seemed delighted with the crowd at the post. The more visitors, he said, the more educated the public becomes about the Army.

But Mr. Atwater said his primary goal at the museum is to educate soldiers.

"As technology goes up, the skills of the soldier mushroom," he said. "Weapons systems have gotten so complicated. Even wrench-turners just don't turn a wrench anymore. The intelligence of the basic soldier has to be so much higher now."

Soldiers must keep up with new technology in part by learning from the past, he said.

"The Army rediscovered history and how to fight a war" after reviewing losses from the Vietnam War era, Mr. Atwater said.

"They had forgotten the political dimension of war. In about 1980, the Army got involved in studying history and what makes military machines work. Now a whole generation of officers understands history."

Mr. Atwater said he hopes to improve the museum to show soldiers and the public alike how weaponry and military machinery developed from the earliest battles to the present.

"We want to be able to tell a story with all our exhibits," he said. "The Army is convinced history is a viable way to train soldiers for the future. That's what we're here for."

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