Bringing meaning to the Fourth of July: The story of the Bay Village Volunteer Militia

Left to right: Bob Finicle, David Bryant, John P. Harmon (kneeling), Daniel Warnke, Doug Hansen and George V. Woodling Jr. Photo courtesy Bob Finicle

The Bay Village Volunteer Militia was a short-lived but quite impressive group of Revolutionary War re-enactors who were active from about 1968-1973. The Bay Village Historical Society recently spoke with five former members about their experiences with the organization.

“We want to bring a little meaning back to the Fourth of July,” founder Daniel Warnke said in a July 3, 1969, interview with The Plain Dealer. The article goes on to say that Warnke and others were concerned about young people who said they did not see any connection between fireworks and the meaning of the Fourth of July. "We want to remind people that these are the weapons that were used to build and defend our country by the men we honor on the Fourth of July.”

The Bay Village Volunteer Militia was active during the Vietnam War and perhaps Warnke felt a need to quell any objections to his group when he stated in a July 2, 1972, article in the Chronicle-Telegram, “The group’s re-enactment of Revolutionary War ‘call to arms,’ musters and battle moves are not designed to glorify war, but illustrate a page from our history.”

Today, his son, Daniel Warnke Jr., agrees with the sentiment and says the Militia was more of a “tribute band” to the American Revolutionary War.

They may have been called a militia but there was nothing combative about the somewhat informal group of around 35 members, including children, who met to entertain and enlighten spectators at various events, both locally and in other cities. All of the former participants remember a casual organization and not a lot of regular meetings.

The call went out to be at a particular event and the members would show up. “Which would have been indicative of what it would have been in real life [in the Colonial times],” Rhonda Totten said. “You didn’t get together but, when you got the call, you showed up.”

Steve Gress remembered, “It was a very laid-back group and not a lot of egos involved. We all got along, went out there and had a great time.”

The muskets they used were from the Revolutionary and Civil War eras and were all muzzle-loading and challenging to use. Obviously, no bullets were used at events. In addition to being heavy and time-consuming to load, these old guns would not have been very accurate.

If you feel the heft of the old firearms and imagine the stamina needed to march with, load and use these in battle, it gives you an appreciation for the challenges our forefathers had to overcome during war.

“How they fought a war with this, I’ll never know,” Bob Finicle remarked while showing me his flintlock muzzle-loading pistol from the mid-1700s.

The Bay Village Volunteer Militia got a lot of attention during its lifetime and even became an official member of the United States Marines, named the First Battalion Continental Marines, a unit first authorized by the Continental Congress in 1775. Although honorary in nature, it was noted at the time that if the British ever dared to attack our shores, Bay Village would be ready for them.

The Bay Village History Society’s Rose Hill Museum has on display a uniform in the style of the Revolutionary War era as well as various dresses from the 1860s-1960s in our exhibition Beadwork: The Beauty of Small Things. Our museum is open from 2:00-4:30 p.m. every Sunday through December (closed holiday weekends). Admission is free. 

For a longer version of this article, with more photos, check out the Bay Village Historical Society’s Glimpse of the Past blog at

Michele Yamamoto

I work for the Bay Village Historical Society as a Collections Manager/Curator. I will be submitting articles written by various members of the Society, including myself.

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Volume 15, Issue 11, Posted 8:25 AM, 06.20.2023