Group Aims To Keep Rangers’ Memories Alive

OSWEGO, NY – Those attending Fort Ontario’s annual Flag Day ceremonies caught a glimpse of America’s military past. This year, members of the Able Company 5th Ranger Infantry Living History Association participated.

“We, as an organization, participate in several activities including living history demonstrations (such as the one at Fort Ontario), parades, school and veteran organization displays and more – as well as mock amphibious assaults,” Jack Frost told Oswego County Today.

The battalion was formed in 1943, Frost said.

Paul Lear, right, chats with a member of the Able Company 5th Ranger Infantry Living History Association.
Paul Lear, right, chats with a member of the Able Company 5th Ranger Infantry Living History Association.

They participated in D-Day as part of a Ranger task force.

The 5th Ranger Battalion has been credited with breaching the Atlantic Wall on Dog White Beach on June 6, 1944, attacking and capturing German forts on the Brest Peninsula, holding the Irsh-Zerf road 10 miles behind German lines in Germany waiting for the Armor to relieve them.

On D-Day, F Company moved down a dirt road around 8 a.m. and then deployed and took cover as rifle fire began intensifying during the battle. A Company was passed by F on its right flank. On the left of Able Company’s advance was a rather large swamp area.

“It was there that they came across many dead bodies of American paratrooper who had missed their intended drop zones. They had drowned or got caught in the trees and shot by the enemy,” Frost said.

Those that landed on the beach got rid of their assault vests as quickly as they could, Frost said.

“They were so wet and so heavy. They stripped everything out and put it in their pockets. Gas masks, too. After they realized the Germans were not going to use chemical weapons, they threw away their gas mask. There were just miles of thousands and thousands of gas masks by the roadside,” he said.

But, they kept the bag because in the bag they could carry extra food, such as apples.

Each and every member of the Living History Association has his own reasons for participating. However, there are several unifying themes such as honoring our veterans, getting closer to history and a fascination with World War II weapons or equipment, Frost explained.

“We are from Brewerton. I’ve got guys here from Cleveland, Constantia, all over Central New York and a few guys from Western New York; there are 19 of us altogether. We even have a couple guys from the Albany area,” he said. “We’re historians. Shooting guns is immaterial to us. We’re not interested in that at all. We’re interested in teaching history; this is the type of group for the serious historians. We’re interested in keeping alive the memory of these World War II veterans. They are passing away at such a dramatic pace.”

Members of the Able Company 5th Ranger Infantry Living History Association man a "machine gun nest" at Fort Ontario.
Members of the Able Company 5th Ranger Infantry Living History Association man a “machine gun nest” at Fort Ontario.

The group reenacts the battalion by the most authentic means possible – through research as well spending time with the original Rangers of World War II and their family members, Frost explained.

They have been finding the surviving Rangers and documenting their stories and memories.

“We did one late last year in Rochester. He passed away the 23rd of December. We were lucky to get to talk to him,” Frost said. “They are an amazing bunch. There are no heroes. If you’ve talked with any of them you know there are no heroes. They just tell you, ‘I did my job.’ They always talk about the funny things, something they got in trouble for, they’d laugh about that; never talk about the bad things.”

The organization also partners in education with the World War II Ranger Battalions Association and the World War II Sons and Daughters Organization, Frost said.

To this date, they are the only World War II non-profit reenacting society to be formally invited and holding a standing invitation to attend all World War II Ranger Reunions, he added.

They also attend meetings and funerals.

According to a note on the organization’s website: “Many people from this Greatest Generation are leaving us and it is our duty to strive for future generations to keep alive what they have done, to teach and show today’s generation in the most accurate way possible; by wearing the uniforms, carrying the weapons and conducting ourselves in the same manner of the brave Rangers of WWII. The Rangers of WWII were some of the best trained soldiers in the US Army, when Maj William O. Darby (father of modern Rangers) started the Ranger program with the British Commandos in 1942, he established a new training program which made the officers train with their men.”

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