Living in southwest Wyoming, Steven Mount would drive by a World War II half-track sitting in a rancher’s pasture. He’d drive by day after day — the Army truck never moving — until he finally stopped to ask the rancher if he could buy it.
After seven years of finding parts, Mount assembled an accurate, functioning piece of history. He could transport himself to European battlegrounds 80-some years ago, an impossible dream that, nonetheless, “pulls on his heartstrings,” he said.
“It’s a piece of World War II that makes me resonate with what happened, what the cause was, what the U.S. did and what sacrifices people made,” the Army veteran and reenactor said.
Mount brought his half-track to Saturday’s Living History Day at Fort Carson, the culmination of the Pikes Peak region’s Armed Forces Week festivities. Across the lawn in front of the post’s visitors center were modern tanks, a helicopter and soldier support organizations, in addition to the fleet of World War II vehicles and reenactors.
Mount’s half-track sat alongside a collection owned by Russ Morgan of Loveland, who subsidized the transport of the vehicles to Fort Carson. Mount has helped Morgan maintain parts of his collection, including a Stuart M5A1 light tank that operated on the ground between December 1942 and June 1944.
If not for people such as Mount and Morgan, the fate of these vestiges of World War II could have been very different.
“They would probably have been scrapped or, as we like to say, ‘Bubba-ized,’” Mount said, meaning outfitted with giant tires and a new engine to be an off-road vehicle.
Some artifacts are best left in preservation rather than out in the elements at an event such as Living History Day, Mount said. An original of his replica uniform, for example, would either cost too much, be to delicate to handle or both.
At the post’s Fourth Infantry Division Museum, curators must balance the public’s desire to handle original artifacts and the need to preserve the fragile items.
“There’s an ongoing tension at museums between showing originals and replicas,” said Joseph Berg, museum director. “With a replica, I can let you see and hold it without worrying about damaging a priceless item. But, there is a funny thing about humans where they want to see the real thing.”
That’s why the museum is so lucky to receive the donation of some of the vehicles from the Loveland collector for Living History Day. Visitors can watch the reenactors hop into a tank as if they were in the throes of battle or touch the controls in the front of a jeep.
“It’s incredible that these run ,” Berg said. “And it’s incredible to have that piece of history provided pro bono.”
Whether an original or replica, the World War II paraphernalia at Living History Day attracts current soldiers.
“That’s my favorite part: when one of our soldiers walks through and can imagine the soldiers who fought in World War II,” Berg said. “It builds a connection between the soldiers and their heritage.”