March back in time: Volunteers bring history to life at Fort Casey

History came alive at Fort Casey State Park last weekend as a group of volunteers marched back in time.

Self-described history preservationists, members of the 9th Coast Artillery District WWII provided up close and personal tours of the fort’s battery command station, plotting room and offered ammunition demonstrations from deep within the magazine and ammunition rooms.

The group also took over the fort’s plotting room, transforming it into a makeshift barracks using authentic bunks and bedding from early WWII.

“We’re not reenactors going out and shooting guns,” said John McPherson, a Snohomish County resident and member of the volunteer group.

“Our goal is to preserve history and share our love of history with others,” he said.

When not spending their weekends dressing up and playing soldier, members of the group scour the country for WWII-era artifacts and equipment at garage sales and army surplus stores. The group has accumulated an impressive collection of authentic clothing, equipment and memorabilia.

The group uses the items they’ve found for authentic displays and living history events.

“Our goal is to bring the pieces of history back together again,” said McPherson.

The group started its volunteer work years ago at Fort Stevens State Park in Astoria, Ore., but branched out to other locations of historical significance, including Fort Columbia and Fort Canby state parks.

George Carter, another volunteer with the group, traveled from Carson, Wash., more than 300 miles away.

Carter said his mission is to get more people interested in the local history around them while sharing his own love and appreciation for history.

“Kids really love the guns, and the adults love the displays,” said Carter.

Carter explained many people have hobbies such as cars, trucks or boats.

“We do this for fun,” said Carter. “Some people go fishing. We collect old military gear and go out and wear it!”

In order to be able to give these living history tours, they have to learn this history and the time period as well. To do this they seek out local historians and experts.

One such expert that provided them with the knowledge of Fort Casey is Steve Kobylk, a field representative for the Coast Defense Study Group who is a certificated resident expert on Fort Ebey and Fort Casey. His hobby is also history and volunteering to restore original features to Fort Casey.

Kobylk worked with the group to give them knowledge and specifics of the coastal defenses in place to protect Puget Sound since the late 1890s.

The men worked to memorize details about the large guns and ammunition.

Kobylk explained the unique history of Fort Casey. It was built at a critical time when technology was rapidly changing. Kobylk said the 10-inch guns at Fort Casey were already obsolete before they were ready to be put into service in 1902. By the time WWII came around, there was a shortage of steel and iron so much of the fort’s metal was scrapped for the war effort…including the five original guns Kobylk said.

He explained the two big guns that are in place now came over from the Philippines during a restoration project in the early 1960’s. The guns were actually used in battle against the Japanese and still bear the scars of war on the barrels.

Kobylk mentioned that State Parks have been very generous. He was asked what he thought about the living history group doing what they do to relive the times past.

“I think it is fantastic,” he said. “People can see what it was really like. They do an extremely good job,” said Kobylk.

John McPherson enjoys an early morning cup of coffee prior to a day of giving living history tours at Fort Casey.

John McPherson enjoys an early morning cup of coffee prior to a day of giving living history tours at Fort Casey.

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