DANVILLE – Brandon Sherman was getting ready for a Civil War re-enactment when he realized he had a problem.
None of his Civil War uniforms fit.
Marine boot camp and a seven-month tour in Iraq can do that to you.
Sherman, 21, has been re-enacting Civil War battles since he was 15 years old. The Danville High graduate was getting ready for the Illiana Civil War Historical Society's re-enactment at Kennekuk County Park in September when he realized his uniforms were too big.
Since deciding to become a Marine a little more than two years ago, Sherman has lost 80 pounds – about 60 before enlisting and another 20 since.
His mother, Lisa Lancaster, said that was an example of her son's determination.
On Sept. 7, Sherman came home on leave to spend time with family at their house on Michigan Street in Danville. It was his first visit home since completing his first tour in Iraq.
To his surprise, the Civil War re-enactment was going on, and Sherman didn't think twice about going out.
"It was great to see all my old friends and meet some new members," said Sherman, who ended up wearing an old Civil War uniform of his dad's that fit him better.
Lancaster said her son became interested in the Civil War era when a family member wrote a book about Col. Oscar Harmon, a local Civil War hero. Through that book, Sherman learned that a great-great-grandfather was in the Civil War.
"That's what sparked his interest," she said, and after seeing a re-enactment, he was hooked and joined the Illiana group.
Sherman wasn't the only teenage boy who enjoyed the hobby at the time. Two others from Vermilion County, Michael Hull and Michael Montgomery, joined as teens, too. Now, all three are Marines.
Sherman said being in the re-enactment group and being around some of the older re-enactors who are Vietnam veterans and ex-military men had some influence on his decision to serve his country. The family history also played a part. In addition to the great-great-grandfather in the Civil War, Sherman's great-grandfather served in World War I and his grandfather in World War II.
"I just wanted to serve," Sherman said.
Eugene Bencomo, a Vietnam veteran and member of the Illiana Civil War Historical Society, described Sherman as a bright young lad who learned a lot in the historical group, not only about the Civil War and history, but about modern military life from veterans like himself and others. He said the experience probably had an influence on all three boys' decisions to serve their country. Bencomo said a woman from Peoria who is involved in the group also joined the U.S. Army.
Lancaster said Bencomo was a positive influence, telling her son that if he didn't keep his grades up, he couldn't be in the group.
"He really encouraged Brandon a lot. They were just wonderful," she said.
Bencomo was not surprised that Sherman came out to the re-enactment during his short visit home last month.
"When you have Civil War re-enactment in your blood, you always try to make it to events that we are doing," he said.
Re-enactments are a great way to relax and take a break from modern-day turmoils, said Bencomo, who said that was a reason he started the hobby years ago.
"You can forget about everything else that happens in life, trials and tribulations and work. It's a hobby," said Bencomo, adding that the recent event probably provided Sherman with a pleasant distraction from everything he has been through.
"He's a changed individual," said Bencomo, who hadn't seen Sherman since he had been in Iraq. "In the infantry, he's seen some things ... but I think he's handled it real well. He's accepting his responsibilities."
Bencomo said the group keeps tabs on Sherman and the other three in the service as much as possible through family, e-mail and phone calls.
"They grew up in front of our eyes over the years. It is kind of like second family," he said. "(Brandon's) been a good friend. I hate to see him have to go back to a place like that. But it's his job now. He feels like he's making a difference, and he's happy and he wanted to do that."
Recently, Sherman returned to California where he is stationed. He will go through more training in the next several months before a return to Iraq that will probably come in the spring.
Sherman said he will be looking forward to returning home again and getting involved in another Civil War re-enactment, but until then, he just asks that people back here continue supporting the troops.
"That's all we need," he said.