Every year for the last nine years, Plainfield Central High School alum Eric Percy has suited up and headed off to his alma mater to show students what life was like as a soldier in World War II.
With help from some fellow re-enactors, Percy sets up a camp in the school's auditorium and a skirmish outside.
"I love history," Percy said during his visit last week. "It's important that these kids remember where their freedoms came from."
He comes with a group of soldiers – this year the group included Americans from the 101st Airborne Division and Germans from the 353rd Infantry.
"We're trying to give the students a better understanding of what life was like in World War II," Percy said.
Before heading out for battle, the soldiers explained what they would have done during the war, their uniforms, the weapons they would have used and what the war was like. They talked about how the Germans used horses in battle, their weapons and how each had a small pouch sewn in their uniforms for emergency first aid supplies. A female re-enactor discussed how German women served as nurses..
Then, they re-enacted a scene from the Battle of the Bulge on a grassy area outside the auditorium.
Students said the visuals helped clarify some of what they learned in class.
"We learn about it in books, but we don't see it," sophomore Bailee McDonald said, pointing to the uniforms and equipment.
"Hopefully through this they'll have a respect for the ones who fought and died for our country," said Jeremy Christian, a re-enactor from Algonquin.
For Percy, re-enacting allows him a chance to not only share history but also enjoy a life-long hobby. The Plainfield native began with Civil War encampments with his parents when he was 4. His family has been involved in re-enacting for years. His aunt and uncle, Max and Donna Daniels, are well-known Abraham Lincoln and Sarah Todd re-enactors.
Each year, he participates in about 10 to 12 re-enactments – a tool he said is an important reminder of our history.
"You can't just forget where you came from," Percy said.