It had been one of the largest World War II re-enactments in the South, featuring close to 200 people in a dozen 1940s-era vehicles at the annual Secret City Festival.
An estimated 5,000 to 7,000 spectators watched the two mock battles at Alvin K. Bissell Park in Oak Ridge each year as British and American forces fought and defeated German military personnel.
But this year, the two-day festival did not include the re-enactments. They were replaced by a new “Salute to Soldiers” program that featured World War II living history activities and demonstrations. That program included period military camps, vehicles, equipment, and demonstrations, as well as educational displays.
Some residents and spectators have asked why the change was made.
On Saturday, Josh Collins, director of the Oak Ridge Recreation and Parks Department, said there were several reasons. They included coordination issues with the re-enactors, safety issues, and a desire to try something new. Collins declined to elaborate on the coordination issues or respond to various explanations circulating in the community.
“We decided to take a different approach,” he said.
He said there had been a safety issue when someone stepped into a hole dug for explosives in a previous re-enactment.
Some residents have reacted with frustration and disappointment, including in online comments, to the decision to drop the re-enactments this year. But Collins said there are others who have said the re-enactments were the “same old battle over and over.”
The “Salute to Soldiers” this year included a “Build a Paratrooper” demonstration, a USO concert by Bombshells United, and firing and movement demonstrations with a 30-caliber light machine gun, 60-millimeter mortar, and anti-tank gun and halftrack. The new program might be described as including less “flash and bang” but could be considered more educational.
“It’s a little something different,” Collins said.
He said the new program might not attract as many spectators, but he didn’t rule out returning to the re-enactments later.
Collins said the festival featured other changes this year, including expanded areas for children and the Oak Ridge Fire Department, and new security measures for the festival’s concerts that were designed to control lines and the items being brought into the concert area.
The festival no longer features antiques either, Collins said.
It’s all part of keeping the festival fresh, he said.
“We’re trying to do things that the public has suggested,” he said.