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The Armor Experience
Photo/Courtesy of Museum of American Armor

I pull on my helmet, snap the buttons of my olive-drab shirt and follow my squad leader’s instructions as my fellow troopers and I march out of the hangar in single file to a waiting personnel carrier. As we pull out of the parking lot, closely followed by a Sherman tank and an M18 Hellcat tank destroyer, my first thought is “I can’t believe I’m just a few miles from the Long Island Expressway.”

I’m part of the Armor Experience, a military reenactment presented by the Museum of American Armor that makes you part of the action. As the armored vehicles roll through the countryside, it’s easy to forget 2019 suburbia and place yourself in the imagined setting: 1944 Normandy, a few miles from the beaches about a week after D-Day. The coast is secure, but now it’s time for Allied forces to push inland and drive the Nazis out of Fortress Europe. We see members of our platoon gathering intelligence from the French Resistance. All the tourists—like my son and I—watch from vehicles, taking part as costumed participants, even though our helmets are there for protection from wayward branches, rather than flying shrapnel. An army of volunteers is suited up for the more serious roles of tromping through the brush, with rifles in hand, and driving these amazing armored vehicles. We pull into the open, and there’s a German pillbox. Our guys open fire. The enemy fires back. After the pop-pop-pop report of small arms ammo (blanks, of course) there’s a puff of smoke as an enemy mortar takes out the Sherman. The Hellcat opens up its 76-mm cannon in response, shooting a few rounds with a boom that makes me happy that I’ve put in my earplugs. (Spoiler alert: the Americans win.) We move on, triumphant and exuberant. The Armor Experience lasts about two hours—from suiting up to rolling back into the compound—and requiress a mere $100 donation. If you’ve dreamed of seeing WWII vehicles on the prowl, this is for you. Afterward, you can tour the museum proper and eye these vehicles (and many more) up close, and query the knowledgeable staff about their details. Visit museumofamericanarmor.com

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