This is the Commander's Corner. Aufhorchen, Landser!
the habit or principle of being independent and self-reliant.
a social theory favoring freedom of action for individuals over collective control.
Individualism – it’s a cornerstone of our society today. Being able to express yourself as a unique individual with your own thoughts, plans and desires is important…but that trait doesn’t work so well in reenacting. In fact, it’s harmful to the hobby. The act of portraying a soldier in a military unit requires first and foremost that an individual understands the hobby is about collectivism, not individualism. Der Erste Zug, the reenacting unit out of Pennsylvania with a website that is a wealth of knowledge, likes to call it the “unit impression.”
What is a “unit impression?” It’s making sure that whatever you bring to an event, be it your uniform, your equipment, your attitude and your persona, adds to the authenticity of the unit as a whole. It’s falling into line and not striving to stand out. Being “just another grunt” and looking just like the reenacting soldier next to you should be the goal of every reenactor trying to attain a great “unit impression.” Let go of any individualistic item you want to bring with you into the hobby. Just because you saw a picture once of a Soldat wearing a smock that was sewn together with Italian camo, an SS-zelt and some sheepskin doesn’t mean that you get to wear that to an event. You don’t get to buy and wear whatever fancy medal you like. Don’t paint your helmet some wacky camo colors. SHAVE YOUR DAMNED BEARD AND CUT YOUR HAIR. Stop making excuses and stop making yourself stand out from others in your unit.
Uniformity is drilled into you in basic training – a fun little event most reenactors don’t get to experience (unless they are prior or active military). Basic training is designed to tear down the individual and rebuild them into a cohesive and uniform group. This, kids, is what military service is all about – the group survives or perishes as a collective entity. If you want to have a top-notch reenacting unit, you have to understand this concept. You are nothing. You are not special. You are not unique. You are the same as every other basic grunt around you. If one person fails, the whole unit fails. The unit is everything. Apply whatever cliché you want here – the tallest blade of grass gets cut first, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link…cliché or not, it’s all true. Uniformity is strictly upheld by military units, in WWII and now, even in the most difficult of times. Unfortunately, uniformity is a rarity in reenacting these days. The worst units (and the weakest units) are the ones in which every member strives to have the “coolest” looking uniform, where there are more MP40s, machine guns and other odd weapons than there are K98s, where there’s scant trace of military knowledge or discipline at all and where the desire to go out and pop blanks is greater than being historically accurate. The best units are the ones in which the Gruppe is accurately portrayed, in which all members know and understand military commands and formations, in which you have trouble telling one Landser from another at a distance of 10 meters.
Since starting this unit, we’ve seen a couple of exoduses from our unit, with one happening just last week. These departures occurred because these former members thought they could do it better. They wanted to stand out. They didn’t want to work as a team. They want individualism over collectivism. While it hurts to lose members, it’s for the best. I’d rather have four dedicated, historically accurate Soldaten striving for a “unit impression” than 40 half-assed weekend warriors who all have their own opinion and think they can do it better on their own.
So, moving forward, we’re going to be pursuing a “unit impression.” Will this be a difficult transition? Absolutely. However, the benefits will far outweigh the work put in to getting there. Tolerance for individualism is set to 0. Me kissing ass and playing nice to get you to fall into line is done. Unique items, uniforms, weapons and equipment are out. Trying to get half-hearted recruits to participate is over. Either you get it or you don’t. Either you want to learn or you don’t. Either you want to participate or you don’t. Research on the 352nd, research on the life of a Landser and doing things together as a unit will be our priorities; they will serve as the cohesive bond in our unit. Sorry, this isn’t a democracy. There will be strict standards that will be defined and will be followed. Striving for a “unit impression” will bring our unit closer to the historical accuracy for which we signed up in the first place. Being able to achieve that historical accuracy will better enable us to remember a generation, to honor their sacrifices and to educate future generations about the 352.Infanterie-Division.
Tapfer und Treu...
Steve Kapotis, the commander of the 914.Grenadier-Regiemnt in Massachusetts, has been battling cancer for the last several years. Yesterday morning, he lost the battle. Steve has been an energetic and dedicated leader in reenacting for many years, and had been coordinating with me to get our unit out to participate in the GAP. It was his goal every year to get together all the 352.Infantry-Division units from around the world to participate in the GAP. Unfortunately, we weren't ever able to make it out there. His loyalty to his unit, those who have been under his command and to living history as a whole has been exemplary. I ask that you all say a prayer for him, his family and his family, as they are dealing with this great loss.
Ich hatte' einen Kameraden...