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story.lead_photo.caption Melody Cook refills a cart's tire during the annual military history appreciation weekend on Saturday, November 6, 2021 at the Museum of Missouri Military History in Jefferson City, Mo. Cook used an original 1943 Airborne air compressor. (Ethan Weston/News Tribune photo)

During World War II, women served in the U.S. military to fill various roles, and those stories are what the female war re- enactors want to teach people about.

Mary Hill and Melody Cook started the hobby at the encouragement of men in their lives, but ultimately fell in love with it.

Both visited the Museum of Missouri Military History as part of the Annual Military History Appreciation Weekend to educate people on WWII history.

Hill dressed as a female enlistee and Cook dressed as one of the female military mechanics.

Hill said Museum of Missouri Military History Director Charles Machon encouraged her to come to a re-enactment event about three years ago. She works at the state archives.

She said he wanted to have more women involved and asked her to participate if they had a uniform that fit her.

"He said, 'Oh, it won't just be you and 20 guys,'" Hill said.

While there, she met a tall British man with a Jeep.

At the next event Hill attended, he took her for a ride and the two hit things off.

About two years later, in 2020, the two got married.

Cook had a similar introduction to the hobby of war re-enactments.

She started dating a man who did WWII re-enactments as a way to remember his grandfather who fought in the war.

Cook said she went to an event with him in Mexico and ended up falling in love with it.

"It's an odd hobby, but it's fun," she said.

The first role she took, Cook said, was as a wartime correspondent. She did pictures and set up with a 1940s typewriter.

However, several years ago, she and her husband became interested in the mechanic side of things and she wanted to tell the stories of the women who stepped into that role.

"It's not something you see often or think of," she said. "Women were overseas. The boys couldn't do it all."

Hill said her background was in history and community theater. She started researching women in war and found a hobby that could bring the two together.

"This is history you don't really see in movies or TV shows or popular books because it doesn't seem marketable," she said. "We teach people about women who served in WWII. I get to bring it alive for people and myself."

The aspect of educating people is what the women really love about the hobby.

They have private events, which is what people tend to think of when considering war re-enactors — acting out battles with blank bullets and crawling through the dirt.

However, they also take part in public events, like Saturday, that are more downtime.

People in various uniforms, from different wars and different sides of the wars and playing many roles. They walk around, talk to each other, show off equipment and vehicles.

The public events also include talking to the public about what they do and why they do it.

Hill said she's had people come tell her several times "'You look just like pictures of my grandma.' It's one of the best feelings in the world."

Cook said she's also heard comments such as "You look like you walked out of a black and white picture."

That's their favorite part of the hobby: talking to people about it.

They get to teach people of all ages about the women they represent.

Cook said she also enjoys talking with veterans that come to events. Since she's focused on WWII, she still gets to learn from people who actually served in the war.

People stereotype re-enactors as older white men, both said, and while that's probably still the majority, they're also there.

"A lot of women leave the hobby because it's their boyfriend pushing them into it like 'Oh, you'd look so cute in a nurses uniform,'" Cook said.

But there's more roles for women to play than a nurse.

"We found a group of men who love and welcomed us," Cook said.

She said if somebody, regardless of gender, is interested in war re-enactment, they should find something in an era they're passionate about and go down the rabbit hole.

That passion makes somebody want to do the research and means they'll do a better job talking about the history behind who they represent.

Essentially, they get to role play history while learning and educating.

"Men got us into this hobby, but we stayed because it's fun," Cook said.

The re-enactors will be at the Museum of Missouri Military History until 4 p.m. today, and the museum will also be open. While Cook and Hill focus on WWII, the event includes re-enactors from the Revolutionary War to the Vietnam War.

Machon said he thought the first day went well with about 1,000 people coming to visit.

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