Father and son liberate France during WWII re-enactions

Matthew McGaughan, 13, of City Island portrays a member of the French resistance who is guiding Allied forces during the Normandy invasion in this re-enactment.
Photo courtesy of the McGaughan family

For one family, the liberation of the French during World War II is worth repeating, over and over again.

A father and son pair honor the brave soldiers who fought in what is often referred to simply as ‘The War.’

Jim McGaughan of City Island and his 13-year-old son Matthew McGaughan are World War II re-enactors, part of a growing group of patriots who are enjoy taking part in re-creations of the conflict’s battles in an effort to remember the ‘greatest generation.’

Both McGaughans are volunteer participants in post D-Day ‘France 1944’ re-enactments that take place monthly at the Museum of American Armor in Old Bethpage, N.Y. on Long Island.

The re-enactments include classic vehicles and machinery, with those in attendance becoming immersed in an armored column liberating France 70 years ago and fighting and defeating the German army in a firefight.

Matthew McGaughan, a student at P.S. 175 on City Island, has been participating in the re-enactments for several years, portraying a young French boy who is part of the ‘French resistance’ to the Axis.

Matthew McGaughan, who himself has grown into the role of playing a medic in some re-enactments, here guides a medic who is part of the Allied forces.
Photo courtesy of the McGaughan family

Matthew’s parents developed a period custom with a vest, cap and satchel that mimics what a French youth would have worn in 1944, his father said.

Using a smattering of French and a lot of hand gestures, Matthew helps to guide G.I.s, which include his dad, and inform them that German troops are just down the road waiting to ambush them.

After a simulated firefight the Germans are captured and interrogated as part of the recreated battle, said Jim McGaughan.

“It is pretty cool because you read about it and see the pictures and (when you are re-enacting) you feel that you are kind of there in that era,” said Matthew McGaughan, adding that recently he has also taken on the role of a medic.

He is too young to fire a weapon, he said, adding that as he gets older he will be acquiring more equipment until he has all the gear the people portraying U.S. soldiers carry.

Patrons of the museum who attend these events see and ride along with working Sherman tanks, half-tracks with four 50-caliber machine guns, Jeeps and tank destroyers, said Jim McGaughan.

Father and son Jim and Matthew McGaughan of City Island are frequent World War II re-enactors.
Photo courtesy of the McGaughan family

Guns are fired by gas power, and all equipment works and is 75 to 80-years-old, said Jim McGaughan, who is a physician assistant at a local hospital when he isn’t on the battlefield.

“It gives people riding in a vehicle a feeling of what your father or grandfather may have experienced in World War II,” said Jim McGaughan.

The showcase lasts for about an hour, and patrons receive ‘a briefing’ prior to the mission, he said.

The patrons get to experience what it is like to ride on these vehicles, which are not built for comfort, he said.

“The whole purpose is to ensure that the veterans aren’t forgotten (and to remember) the sacrifices they made for the country,” said Jim.

He added that he believes the re-enactments help foster a better understanding of the freedoms people have in America and how they were obtained.

Photo courtesy of the McGaughan family

For more information about the museum, and to learn about making a donation or a ride along in an Armor Experience, visit museumofamericanarmor.com.

Reach Reporter Patrick Rocchio at (718) 260–4597. E-mail him at procchio@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @patrickfrocchio.

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