The following recap was provided by Marilyn Rea Beyer.
It was a covert operation employing a time-honored military tactic – the element of surprise.
On the this past Sunday, Lexington Militia Capt. Bill Mix gave orders to Lexington militia man Bruce Leader, and Andrew Coots of Gardner’s Charleston Militia, to commandeer two inflatable rubber Sherman tanks in order to startle and befuddle His Majesty’s 10th Regiment of Foot as a practice battle ensued on Lexington Green on Sunday, April 1. And just as the King’s Troops Commander, Paul O’Shaughnessy blustered and bellowed for the rabble from Lexington to “Lay down your arms and disperse!” the unified local forces shouted a unison rejoinder, “Oh, yeah?”
Tom Fortmann, Rick Beyer, the two militiamen, plus late recruits in the persons of Rita and Mike Cramer, David Brossi and Michelle Berniere and sons Ben, Jeremy, Christian Berniere, charged onto the Green bearing the faux armored vehicles, causing the staunch Redcoats to bust a gut and sending O’Shaughnessy into fits of laughter.
Upon recovering his wits, the Redcoat leader barked, “Fix bayonets!” and ordered a unit to charge, threatening to poke holes in the balloon-like weaponry and thus taking the wind out of the brazen bearers of the buoyant battlefield prank tanks. Mix ordered a hasty retreat, and the rehearsal proceeded in earnest, with the usual annual outcome at the expense of the Lexington Militia.
Just about a month ago, after a committee including Fortmann and other Lexingtonians mounted a fundraiser for local filmmaker Rick Beyer’s WWII documentary The Ghost Army, Fortmann had a bright idea. Goofy, yes, but bright, as is the wont of the MIT PhD engineer-turned-educator and former member of the Massachusetts Board of Education.
The idea: Why not use the inflatable to put one over on the Redcoats during the April 1 re-enactment rehearsal?
About an hour before the practice battle, Fortmann and friends inflated the phony tanks and hauled them onto the lawn across the street from the Green. On cue, the crew hoisted the bright green dummies onto the field. Afterwards, the pranksters admitted that, even though the rubber tanks were filled with air, dragging them the 100 yards to the battle line was hard work.
Fooling the Redcoats, however, was well worth it.
“The look on O’Shaughnessy’s face was priceless,” said Beyer. “I have no idea what he said, though, because he was laughing so hard.”
While the battle is a somber chapter of early American history, and, indeed, the yearly Patriots’ Day re-enactment honors that revered history, the early-April practice sessions frequently include such tomfoolery.