NEWBERRY — In the summer of 1963, almost 100,000 soldiers and airmen participated in the largest-ever peacetime military maneuvers in U.S. history.
Newberry played a starring role in the training exercise, as the capital city of the fictional nation Columbia. Soldiers camped out in the county’s fields and forests, citizens were recruited as spies and public officials, and little boys joined in the excitement by collecting whatever the soldiers left behind — ammo boxes, c-rations, spent shells, parachutes, or propaganda fliers.
The Newberry Community Players will revisit that summer Aug. 22-24 with “Swift Strike Summer,” an original play set during the time of those maneuvers.
The play is fiction, but it does include several incidents gleaned from news coverage of actual events, as well as stories shared by Newberry residents of the time.
The action revolves around one family’s reaction to the invasion by thousands of soldiers. In particular, the plot focuses on how two mischievous boys decide to use the maneuvers as an “income opportunity.”
In the play, one boy keeps a transistor radio in his “hideout,” and his grandmother has a radio in her kitchen. Both are set to 1240 AM, and every scene is “set up” with news reports about the Swift Strike maneuvers from local radio station WKDK.
Indeed, the radio station is an important character in the play. The voiceovers have been recorded by owner/manager Jimmie Coggins.
“Jimmie truly is the ‘Voice of Newberry,’ and we are very grateful he made the time to record the news reports for us. That gives the production such authenticity. His voice is sure to resonate with local audiences,” said director Ellen Hunt.
The Swift Strike news will be punctuated by jingles once used by the radio station — and will conclude with snippets of songs that might have been played on WKDK that summer.
The news flashes are based on Army press releases and news articles from 1963 in The Newberry Observer. Former Observer reporter Kevin Boozer did much of the initial research, studying old newspapers on microfilm and copying articles related to Swift Strike III.
“We are deeply indebted to WKDK and The Newberry Observer for their generous support of this production, as well as to folks who shared their Swift Strike stories with us. Truly, this production is as much about community as it is about the Players,” said Buffy Summer, who co-wrote the play with her mother, Sue.
“Swift Strike Summer” will be presented Aug. 22 and Aug. 23 at 8 p.m. and Aug. 24 at 3 p.m. in the Ritz Theater in downtown Newberry.
Tickets are available through the Newberry Opera House at 803-276-6264. Regular admission is $10 and $8 for students, active military personnel and veterans.