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Re-enacting a key World War II battle

Seventy-two years ago, Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor marked the beginning of the United States’ involvement in World War II.

One of the key moments in ending that war was Elbe Day.

On April 25, 1945, Russian and American troops met near the River Elbe in Germany, effectively cutting the country in half. Four days later, Adolf Hitler was dead in his Berlin bunker.

Earlier this year, photographers Alessandro Cosmelli and Gaia Light joined actors in Bedford, Pennsylvania, where a nearby abandoned village served as the backdrop for an Elbe Day re-enactment.

Cosmelli said the buildings and surrounding area in the village gave it the appearance of being in Europe during the 1940s.

“It’s the perfect place for a re-enactment like that, for that particular battle,” he said. “The river (in the village) helped very much because there was a river at the battle. It helped shape the pictures.”

Some of the pictures are action shots of troops rushing in. Others portray dead or wounded soldiers on the battlefield.

“Some of (the pictures) are action shots,” Cosmelli said. “Some are more laid-back. Some are (the soldiers) at moments of rest, just like they would in a battle.”

Since 2007, the photographers from New York City have been working on various projects to capture American culture during the time of World War II. Cosmelli said the opportunity to document a re-enactment gave them something that would be both photogenic and educational.

In Bedford, they discovered re-enactors of all ages, races and socio-economic backgrounds. The people were very proud of their weapons, causing the photographers to reflect on how guns are perceived today versus the 1940s.

“We thought it was an interesting point of view to investigate American culture with this designation of firearms in the way some people enjoy using them,” Cosmelli said. “Basically, it is a cultural investigation.”

While saying there is “an acknowledged firearms emergency in America,” Cosmelli said re-enactors pay attention to the detail of weapons to preserve the memory of those who served their country and to accurately reconstruct military history.

“The people are very accurate in taking care of uniforms, of firearms – everything – (and) the way they relate to each other,” he said.

Cosmelli and Light wanted to capture the Elbe Day conflict as if they were journalists on the scene. Their ultimate goal for the project was for people to see with their own eyes what war is like. They hope by studying and learning from the past, people can gain a better understanding of the grim reality of war.

- Larry Frum, Special to CNN