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Fort McPherson focuses on past, present at Army celebration

By Ed Brock

As Nazi soldiers battle dog-faced G.I.s a P-51 Mustang, the "Cadillac of the Skies," roars overhead.

That's the way the U.S. Army celebrated its 230th birthday at Fort McPherson in Atlanta on Friday.

The World War II battle reenactment was just part of the activities that took place amidst the clouds of cannon smoke on Hedekin Field at the fort. There was also a Civil War battle reenactment, soldiers in uniforms from all the wars in this nation's history and even a giant birthday cake.

"It was real. It seemed to be real," said Jane Herron of McDonough.

Though Fort McPherson faces the strong possibility of closure after being included on the Defense Department's Base Realignment And Closure list, it was the ongoing war in Iraq that sharpened the importance of the ceremony for Herron's friend, Cecilia Sanders of McDonough.

The reenactments just reminded her of the soldiers fighting today.

"They're living it every day. That's what's hard to take," Sanders said.

The ceremony began around 10 a.m. with the usual pomp and ceremony as reenactors from the Revolutionary War to the Vietnam War and Desert Storm paraded onto the field. A Confederate soldier in rebel gray and a union soldier in yankee blue charged each other, meeting in the middle and then shaking hands to represent that conflict.

"The American soldier has always been here for this country," said the fort's commander Col. Angela Manos.

It was all relevant to the speech of the guest speaker at the event, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston.

"Today as we celebrate our Army's birthday we also celebrate our nation's history," Preston said. "When you look at 230 years of our Army history you look at 230 years of our nation's history."

Dayton Calhoun of Fayetteville came to the celebration with his two grandsons. He was a little worried about the future of the fort and its presence on the BRAC list.

"This is one of the oldest bases around," Calhoun said. "I think if it closes it'll be a shame. It's a very historical installation."

But Bob Bolia of Jonesboro, a retired spokesman for the installation and it's related installation Fort Gillem in Forest Park, said the BRAC list was far from final.

"I don't think that has any significance," Bolia said.

The celebration comes to Fort Gillem today at 9:30 a.m. with the reenactment of a World War II tank battle that will also be open to the public.