Dressed in World War II combat fatigues and standing in a foxhole he helped dig, Steve Zahareas looks like he stepped back in time.
And, in a way, he has.
A self-proclaimed "living historian," Zahareas is playing the part of a GI in the 509 Parachute Infantry Battalion during a recent re-enactment called World War II Days in Rockford.
As part of the re-enactment, the 41-year-old Schaumburg man will take part in several mock battles and interact with visitors, all with the goal of sharing information about the World War II experience with people whose knowledge of the war comes mostly from books or movies.
A former high school history teacher, Zahareas has vivid memories of his lesson plan on Veterans Day 2004, when he told students about the human cost of liberty and freedom.
Later that day he learned his nephew, Peter Giannopolous, a Marine from Inverness, had been killed in Iraq.
As a way to honor his nephew's memory, Zahareas began participating in war re-enactments in 2005. He concentrates on World War II, Vietnam and even goes back to his roots portraying a heavily armed soldier from ancient Greece called a hoplite.
Zahareas knows some critics suggest re-enactors simply glorify war, but he disagrees.
"I believe most of us do it because we want to teach and educate the public about the sacrifices of the men and women who came before us," he said. "A lot of my friends are World War II and Vietnam veterans and I do it for them."
Zahareas didn't serve in the military himself, but many of his family members did. He feels this is his way of giving back. When he identifies a veteran, he will approach and thank them for their service.
"I know there's a great deal of appreciation from the veterans that I come across," he said.
During re-enactments, he portrays a member of the allied forces in World War II, which include 509 Parachute Infantry Batallion and a British Royal Marine 401 Commando. As a Vietnam soldier, he acts as part of the 101st Airborne and 5th special forces group, or even a Huey helicopter pilot.
A married and stay-at-home dad with two girls, Zahareas typically takes part in events from May to September, which includes re-enactments as well as static displays.
He volunteers at the First Division Museum at Cantigny, where he will set up and take part in various war displays. Zahareas collects from vintage war memorabilia from estate sales, garage sales, eBay, or donations from vets.
He believes displays and re-enactments are a very effective way to teach history.
"There is only so much you can read about in a book or look on the Internet," Zahareas said. "When it's in front of you, when you can touch it and feel it, it's a much more intimate experience."