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April 17, 2024

Mabry Pate

Bell Academy student is a collector

and participates in reenactments

By Joey Lee, The Bolivar Bullet

Mabry Pate, a sixth-grader at Bell Academy, has been collecting WWII uniforms and memorabilia for nearly a third of his life. Over the past year, he has embarked on a unique and fascinating journey into the arena of World War II reenactments, defying age barriers and showcasing a passion that sets him apart from his peers.

The rich history of World War II gripped Mabry, believe it or not, as a preschooler. His fascination began as he and his family traveled to the WWII Museum in New Orleans. “I’ve been to the WWII Museum I don’t know how many times,” he said. “But it’s been a lot.”

“It shouldn’t have come as a surprise that he’d be interested in this, from the time he was 4 years old we’d go to the WWII Museum and he was always consumed by it,” said Ann Marie, Mabry’s mother.

These museum visits cultivated a deep appreciation for the sacrifices soldiers made during that pivotal time and started Mabry on the journey where we now find him. 

In 2021, he started collecting replica uniforms but the fun really began in 2023. As many 6th graders tend to do, Mabry was watching videos on YouTube when he discovered a WWII reenactment in Elizabethtown, Kentucky. 

Always up for a road trip, and seeing the opportunity to support Mabry in something he was interested in, the family headed to Kentucky. The initial thought was that they would only be able to observe the reenactment since typically, people are supposed to be older than 16 to participate. And even then, those younger than 18 cannot be riflemen, they are given the role of medic.

Anyway, Mabry showed up in his full paratrooper uniform and was able to speak with the event organizer, who was gracious enough to allow him to participate as a medic.

Mabry is quick to let me know that a sixth-grade WWII reenactor is quite rare. “I’m one of the very few 6th graders interested in these, let alone participating. I’m like the Marines, the few, the proud,” he said.

There are 3 types of WWII reenactments, tactical, public battle and living history. The tactical event is when they reenact the battle, but with no audience, “It’s going out in the woods and playing army,” Mabry explained. 

The public battle reenactment is similar to a tactical, but typically in a field where an audience can see.

The living history event revolves around showing people the lives of the soldiers. It involves participants setting up camps and other military displays and demonstrations of WWII activities.

The family has a close connection to World War II. Ann Marie’s grandfather was in the Navy. He served on a ship transporting Marines to crucial battles in the Pacific. One of Mabry’s prized possessions is a photo of his great-grandfather during the war.

There are two big challenges Mabry sees in his hobby. The first is his age since most reenactment participants have to be 16. The second is the expense. “It’s very expensive, just one of these jackets alone can cost over $100,” he said.

But his resilience hasn’t let those challenges slow him down, already having participated in 2 of the 3 types of reenactments. Along with Elizabethtown, he was able to participate in a tactical reenactment in Milbourne, Kentucky. He plans to take part in a living history event on Dauphin Island this March.

His collection includes replica uniforms from D-Day (paratrooper and infantry), the Battle of the Bulge and one from the Pacific Theater. 

Mabry receives most of the pieces in his collection as Christmas gifts but will get some throughout the year. 

“If he gets good grades on his report card, we might get him a piece he’s wanted,” said Ann Marie. “Or if he saves his allowance, he can get what he’s been eyeing.”

Mabry prepares by ensuring his uniform is precisely right for the battle being recreated. Each era and arena of the War had specific details in their uniforms that make that battle unique. 

He also studies the history, learning everything possible about what happened, where and when as well, so he can accurately represent the soldiers of his assigned unit.

One of both Mabry and Ann Marie’s favorite things about his reenactment participation is the people. Mabry enjoys the new friends he’s making throughout this tight-knit community.

“There were a good many people that he met at the Elizabethtown event that he saw again at the Battle of the Bulge reenactment,” said Ann Marie. “At the first one, he met a man who helped show him the ropes and he was at the Milbourn event and we were able to reconnect with him.”

Along with the new friends, Mabry enjoys the knowledge he gains from his research, the confidence that gives him and simply the fun he’s having at the events.

“There’s a lot of discipline involved because you do have to learn about that period. Mabry can focus, learn a lot and connect to our family history through my grandfather. And it’s fun!” Ann Marie said.

Another thing he enjoys are the restored WWII vehicles at reenactments. “One group had a Tiger I, one of the toughest German tanks in the war. They fired it and everything!” he explained. “It was pretty impressive, I was 250 feet away and could still feel the shockwave.”

And Mabry isn’t just a one-hit-wonder, he leads a typical life of a 6th grader with other hobbies outside the reenactment world. He likes to whittle and carve wood, play football, show pigs with 4-H and competitively swim. 

His dream is to participate in the US D-Day Conneaut reenactment on Lake Erie in Ohio. This event is the largest in the US and features 4 historic battle recreations with troops storming the beach using actual WWII Higgins landing craft.

He plans to continue collecting uniforms but upon reaching the allowed age, adding replica weapons to his, forgive the pun, arsenal. Until then, he navigates the rules creatively by making wooden guns at home to complement his uniforms.

Long-term, Mabry’s plans include attending Ole Miss, followed by a career in the army, “Either medical, engineering or straight-up infantry,” he said matter-of-factly.

One thing is certain, it doesn’t matter which field he chooses, with the knowledge and experience he is gaining through his unique hobby, he is sure to be successful.