- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Michael Fitzgerald, a Revolutionary War re-enactor from Pennsylvania, has walked along the East Coast for weeks, for hundreds of miles and through all types of weather and conditions.

His replica American soldier uniform is soiled with dirt and grass stains. His feet are so blistered that he has wrapped them in duct tape. Torrential rains have shrunk the sleeves of his wool jacket by about 3 inches.

But he wouldn’t change a thing.

Mr. Fitzgerald, 55, and two other Revolutionary War enthusiasts — Dave Holloway, 56, a carpenter from Wallingford, Conn.; and David Fagerberg, 55, an insurance salesman from Prairie Village, Kan. — are marching the 650-mile path taken by French and American soldiers to Yorktown, Va., to celebrate the 225th anniversary of the Battle of Yorktown.

Yesterday, the trio arrived in the District where they attended a luncheon at Howard University to discuss the contributions of black soldiers to the war.

“The idea was initially to honor the French,” said Mr. Fitzgerald, a film producer from Sewickley, Pa. “But as we marched along, we’ve also been getting educated about the participation of a lot of different people.”

The men are members of America’s March to Yorktown, a small group of Revolutionary War re-enactors.

Since June, the three have been retracing the Washington-Rochambeau RevolutionaryRoute, which begins in Providence, R.I. and ends in Yorktown, Va.

Continental Army commander Gen. George Washington and French army Lt. Gen. Jean Baptiste de Rochambeau marched from New York to Virginia for several weeks in 1781 to engage British Lt. Gen. Charles Cornwallis’ army.

At yesterday’s luncheon, the re-enactors were greeted by Mayor Anthony A. Williams’ mother, Virginia, the D.C. Daughters of the American Revolution and a few Howard students.

“We’ve learned that one of every four African-Americans were soldiers, which is incredible,” Mr. Fitzgerald said. “You certainly don’t get that from history books. … I hope that piece of history can be reconciled.”

Kamal McClaren, 31, a graduate student who is working on a master’s degree in history at Howard, said he thought the re-enactors helped shed light on the contribution of blacks during the war.

“It brings the history to life,” Mr. McClaren said. “That information needs to be included not only in African-American history, but American history as a whole.”

The re-enactors were invited to the luncheon by James A. Donaldson, dean of Howard’s College of Arts and Sciences.

“Students need to know that there were many people involved in the Revolutionary War, and that the ancestors of African-Americans played a prominent role,” Mr. Donaldson said.

The re-enactors have finished about two-thirds of the journey, withstanding heat waves, bone-chilling rains and bugs.

Mr. Fitzgerald and Mr. Fagerberg are wearing the standard American soldier’s uniform: A blue gabardine jacket with red lapels and gold buttons, white knickers, black hat and a musket. As a tribute to France’s contributions, Mr. Holloway is wearing a cream-colored, black-trimmed French soldier’s uniform.

For the sake of historical accuracy, the trio have stayed as close as possible to the soldiers’ original route and routine, including pitching canvas tents and camping out almost every night.

An official ceremony is scheduled for 8 a.m. Saturday, when the re-enactors cross the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Georgetown before camping near Arlington.

They plan to reach Yorktown by Oct. 7 to celebrate the anniversary with about 4,000 other war re-enactors.

“People have a tendency to forget history,” Mr. Holloway said. “We’re trying to bring the past to life.”

Mr. Fitzgerald said the re-enactors have been welcomed with open arms almost everywhere they have visited.

“A little town in Connecticut, there was only 1,500 people in the town, and 40 of them showed up to march with us,” he said. “When you hear the church bells and you know they’re ringing them to honor you, it’s enough to bring tears to your eyes.”

Though various people have joined them in their march for brief periods, the trio had trouble rounding up other re-enactors to participate because of pressing responsibilities such as family or work.

Mr. Fitzgerald said, for him, it was as simple as “just walking out the door.”

“You can always come up with a reason not to do something,” he said. “But this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity — or at least once every 225 years.”

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