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Remembering World War I

100 years later, a father and son relive the days of the Great War

–photo courtesy of Bob Burns, WOND Vince Turner and son Vincent on the Bob Burns Radio Show, News Talk 1400 WOND promoting the Greate Egg Harbor Township Historical Society Call of Duty event, Saturday July 30, 2016.
     On this centennial year of the United States entry into World War I, memorial services and special exhibits are honoring the members of our Armed Forces, past and present, and showing us how war reshapes America.
     Young though they are, Vince Turner and his namesake son, Vincent, II, both of Owings, can tell you how it was. This dynamic duo has combined forces to support events honoring service members, and in ways that don’t involve bombs, bullets and airplanes.
     At this year’s Memorial Day’s Stars and Stripes Festival in Chesapeake Beach honoring the centennial, Vince Turner stood at ease, in the background, outfitted in a khaki World War I tunic and overseas hat.
     Unlike many living historians and military reenactors, Turner, 55, doesn’t portray First Person named characters. Rather, he shows us life in America during long-ago conflicts, through live gigs as a military entertainer and through educational exhibits.
     “It’s my way of thanking active duty, veterans and all who have given their lives in the service of their country,” Turner says.
 
Getting into Costume
      Virginia-born Turner left the family home in St. Mary’s County before high school graduation. He served in the National Guard, then the Army Reserves. Over the years that followed, while working full-time, he dabbled in regional theater and Civil War reenacting.
      In 1993, he married, and he and wife Vicki settled in Prince Frederick. Six years later, the couple moved to Owings with their daughters Lindsey and Olivia and son Vincent. 
     In his first stable home environment, Turner threw himself into his new roles as husband and father. He was determined to give his family the attention he grew up lacking.
      A decade ago, when Vincent was 12, he and his dad looked for a shared father-son activity. They tried Civil War reenacting, but Vincent hated the heavy woolen uniforms. Shifting to 20th-century wars — specifically, the World Wars, the Korean conflict and the Vietnam War — they found their common ground.
Dressed in historically accurate uniforms, the Turners appeared at memorial ceremonies and reenactments. As Vincent showed patriotic pride and helped with their research, his father watched with joy.
     In 2012, father and son found a way to merge living history with Vince’s theatrical experience. They created a whole new concept, an entertainment production called SPAM (for Special Projects and Maintenance) Time. Outfitted in World War II, Korean or Vietnam-era uniforms, the father and son team became T/5 Vince ‘Spam’ Turner and PFC Vincent ‘Bubba’ Turner Jr. 
     In the world of living history, father-son teams such as theirs are not uncommon. Still, the elder claims he and Vincent are unique in portraying entertainers.
      “We’re a father and son, your average GIs, assigned to an Army Special Services Company as entertainers,” Vince says. “This is our job, to do whatever we can to take a GI’s mind off the war in which he’s engaged.” 
     This they do via stage performances, live news broadcasts, games and music — all backed up by meticulous research. They’ve consulted the National Archives and the Library of Congress, and read Army Special Services manuals. 
     “Our ultimate goal is educating Americans about wartime life,” says Vince.     “We can tell you about our uniforms, what’s in the news during the year we’re portraying, what’s parked in your driveway, how your house looks, which ball teams are winning.”
 
Hitting the Road
     Lately, Vince and Vincent have begun creating and funding the manufacture of museum-quality exhibits on war-related themes. Their work goes on display at museums and historic sites around the mid-Atlantic region and Ohio. 
     This year, to commemorate the World War I centennial, father and son have created a powerful traveling exhibit that captures the essence of life in America from 1915 to 1926. Part of the exhibit is Living in America During the Great War, while the second section, Americans in the Great War, explores our cultural diversity and helps viewers link in linear connection to the past.
      “The last photograph in the exhibit shows a wheelchair-bound World War I veteran being fed by a volunteer,” Vince says. “We want people to walk away from this exhibit knowing that wars don’t end when the armistice is signed.”
      These days, Vince works his volunteer activities around his job in mission support for NASA at Goddard Space Center. He also serves on boards and advisory committees for history-themed events, such as the annual Chesapeake Beach Stars and Stripes Festival. 
     For Vincent, now 22, the early exposure to American history has paid off. He’s earning a history degree from St. Mary’s College and working weekends at the Bayside History Museum in North Beach.
     “Naturally,” says Vincent, “school and work can eclipse my volunteer work, but I do what I can.” 
     For the Turner duo, the holiday season promises to be full. November 14 to 15, their Trains and Troops exhibit, America’s Railroads and the Military, is on display at the B&O Railroad Museum in Ellicott City.
     Throughout most of November and December, Vince and Vincent display their exhibit Holidays in Uniform at Piney Point Lighthouse Museum. In mid-December, this exhibit accompanies the two men to Finn’s Point National Cemetery in Pennsville, New Jersey, for a Wreaths Across America commemoration, then returning to Piney Point.
      Meanwhile, Vince is looking ahead. He’s working on a manuscript he calls Calvert Countians during World War I. He hopes to have it completed by spring. 
     Turner and son do all this — free of charge, travelling 8,000 miles last year — for the love of their subject and of the men and women who served.
      “We should invest the time to learn their stories,” he believes, so he and his son have made it their lives’ work.
 
Special Services Entertainment Branch
     On July 22, 1940, the War Department created the Special Services entertainment branch of the American military. 
     In April of 1942, the United States Army opened the first Special Services Unit Training Center at Fort Meade, for both new recruits and established performers.
      Through Army Special Services, troops have been entertained by many star performers, among them Sammy Davis Jr., Glenn Miller, Burt Lancaster, Dick Van Dyke and Leonard Nimoy. Actor Mickey Rooney entertained more than two million troops in less than two years during World War II and earned a Bronze Star for performing in combat zones.