NEWBERRY — In the summer of 1963, the Army and Air Force mounted the largest-ever peacetime maneuvers in U.S. history. Almost 100,000 troops were divided into the Red and Blue armies, and as the capital city of the mythical nation Columbia, Newberry played a starring role in the conflict.
The Red and Blue forces fought fiercely for control of the “the center of the universe.” The airport was invaded, paratroopers dropped from the skies at the Hartford Community Center, and soldiers camped in fields and forests across the county.
The Newberry Community Players will revisit that remarkable summer with an original production, “Swift Strike Summer.” The play includes several stories from Newberrians who witnessed the excitement, and several stories from news accounts of the time.
The play is fiction, but the Players also want to document some of the history of Swift Strike III with a “lobby museum” of memorabilia.
The “lobby museum” effort is being spearheaded by Heather Hawkins and Cindy Draeger, with help from local historian Ernest Shealy. They are turning the community for help, and are asking this question, “What’s in your attic?”
“We’d be most grateful if people would search their attics and check their closets for anything related to Swift Strike III,” Hawkins said.
Draeger said they hope to find C-rations or K-rations, parachutes, spent shells, movies or photos of the maneuvers.
“Anything the soldiers left behind would be great,” she said.
Swift Strike memorabilia can be dropped off at the Ritz theater in downtown Newberry from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays through Aug. 14. Items can be picked up between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Aug. 30 or by appointment.
The lobby museum will be open from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Aug. 19 and Aug. 21 and one hour before showtimes.
For the production itself, the Players are searching for a chenille bedspread, peach crates (for a young boy’s “hideout”), and whatever might pass for 1960s Army uniforms. “Period costumes” would also be appreciated.
The search for memorabilia might yield a good story, too, and the Players are hoping those stories will be shared as well.
For example, a diary that belonged to Shealy’s sister has been the source of a “fun story” that might be incorporated into the play. Shealy’s father was manager of the Newberry Airport , which was a center of activity during the maneuvers. His sister ran the canteen, and she recorded this in her diary: “The ice cream man has been arrested as a guerrilla spy.”
Speaking of ice cream, might there be a churn in your attic? The Players are asking for two churns at each performance.
“Part of the play takes place during a Vacation Bible School picnic, and of course, homemade ice cream is being served. We’ll ask the audience to attend the picnic, and we hope to have two churns of ice cream at every performance, to share,” said director Ellen Hunt.
If you can bring a churn to one of the performances, call Hunt at 803-924-7158.
Tickets for “Swift Strike Summer” are available through the Newberry Opera House by calling 803-276-6264. The play will be performed at 8 p.m. Aug. 22 and Aug. 23 and 3 p.m. Aug. 24.
So, Newberry, what’s in your attic?
The Players have their fingers crossed it’s something from Swift Strike III.