CAMP MABRY, Texas - The sun shone bright across the parade field as the Texas Military Forces welcomed current and former service members, their families, and the community to attend the annual Open House featuring the American Heroes Air Show, here, April 20-21, 2013.
The two-day military expo featured a variety of events intended to pay tribute to veterans, engage service members with the community and foster a spirit of patriotism.
"This was so encouraging today," said Estelle Coffey, an Austin-native attending the open house with her husband, Army Col. William Coffey, retired. "It kind of brings you back to patriotism, you know. You look out there and with all of what's going on like in Boston, we need patriotism. We need people to remember who we are."
"This Camp Mabry is the bright spot of Austin," William said, remembering when he enlisted on the post in 1940. "It's a spot that is always in order and provides a place for people to gather … to keep the spirit of the military."
A main attraction that drew the biggest crowd on Saturday was a reenactment of the Battle of Montelimar, a battle that found the 36th Infantry Division chasing the German Army during its retreat up the Rhone River in August 1944.
"It was a good reenactment of history," said Devin Zapata, 13, of Austin who attended the event with his dad, Sgt. 1st Class Jose Zapata. "It actually taught me a lot about our weapons ... It's a good way to show people how the soldiers lived their life instead of just how we live our life in the city."
Other reenactments included living history camps set up to recreate life for soldiers in the Texas Revolution and Civil War periods, including Buffalo Soldiers of Company A 9th Cavalry from Camp Mabry. Reenactors demonstrated weapons used during the Civil War and invited spectators to take part in history by holding and firing black powder reenactment loads from the antique weaponry.
The Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall, a 3/5-scale reproduction of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, drew visitors who wished to pay respect to fallen heroes and who wanted to search for familiar names. Jess Lofgreen of Austin, a 25-year veteran who participated in 295 combat missions in Vietnam, searched for his roommate's name.
"It's nice to come and look on those people who you knew personally or you knew of that made the ultimate sacrifice during the Vietnam conflict," Lofgreen said. "It's just comforting, yet difficult, to go back to that time period."
Service members from 16 countries, to include Haiti, Nigeria, Mexico and China, took the oath of citizenship in front of the memorial during a naturalization ceremony, which took place Saturday morning.
Another favorite attraction of the weekend was a military helicopter demonstration during which a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter pursued a speeding vehicle across the parade field. The chopper simulated disabling the vehicle from the air before Soldiers rappelled from the aircraft and captured the fugitives inside.
"Definitely the helicopters were my favorite," said James Burden of Austin, who brought his daughter and her friend to show service members they care. "Everything, the support of the troops and all the activities that they do for the families, it's just a lot of fun."
A parachute team and K-9 search and rescue team also demonstrated their skills and expertise at the parade field on Saturday.
The open house featured static helicopter displays and interactive booths from civilian first responders and law enforcement agencies throughout the Austin-area, as well as, information booths for service member support organizations, face-painting and food vendors.
"I think it's pretty cool," Lindsey Mabry of Austin said about her experience at the open house. "It's awesome to see all the troops out here. The support is amazing… It's just good to see that people care about what they're doing for you."