Reading WWII: It’s A Broadway Show!

Reading Air Show 2017

The Mid-Atlantic Air Museum presented its "27th Annual World War 2 Weekend and 'Gathering of Warbirds' " on June 2nd through June 4th, 2017 at the Reading Airport in the rolling hills of Pennsylvania. Over the years this World War II Weekend has continued to grow and be refined until it now has become the largest and most well-known event of its type anywhere in the world. It continues to draw spectators from all over the Americas, as well as from Europe and Asia. Each year thirty-five coordinators, and more than four hundred volunteers come together to create this historic event for the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum. This year the show hosted almost 2,500 reenactors representing every military army that participated in WWII with over sixty-five vintage WWII warbirds, more than two hundred WWII military vehicles, a gigantic WWII flea market, a cadre of some thirty-three noted special guests and WWII veterans, entertainers, speakers, singers, authors, two WWII Big Band Orchestras, two popular evening 1940 Hanger Dances, President Roosevelt, Lt. Jack Kennedy, Admiral Chester Nimitz, Admiral "Bull" Halsey, General Douglas McArthur, and many spectators dressed up in classic 1940's authentic clothing. The star of the show was MAAM's rare Northrop P-61B "Black Widow" (42-39445) nearing the completion of final restoration and on display in a special tent on the ramp near the Main Hanger.

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This WWII Air Show is more than just the sixty-five warbirds that came in, with most going up for the afternoon flying demos. This Reading Show is really a Gigantic Broadway Play with the planes being a side show to the Main Event - What I would call "The Biggest Off-Broadway Show West of the Hudson River"!!! When you get off one of the many yellow busses that bring you in from the surrounding grass parking lots, and you pay for your "Broadway Ticket" to get in, as soon as you cross that fence gate you enter into a 1940 French Village replica with over 20 actual buildings that replicate a French Village, replete with a little bomb damage on the facades, as if you were in WW2. The shops have reenactors in 1940 civilian French outfits and are seen working in the various stores - the Bakery, the Pharmacy, the Grocery Store - all doing what they would be doing on a typical day in a typical French Village in 1940. (See, It's a Play, for sure!). Later in the day there was a staged battle between the Germans and the US forces in the Village with house-to-house fighting with loud blank shots from the small arms and the Burp-guns - all very realistic. After you walked through the Village you got to walk through the expansive reenactors actual encampment areas with all sorts of different American, Allied, Axis, and Enemy Armies from WW2 that included almost 3,000 military reenactors. These guys take this stuff quite seriously and start setting up their field tents, tanks, and trucks as early as Wednesday morning. They sleep, eat, make their own food, shave, bathe right in their respective unit's army tent encampment areas, regardless of the weather. Some years they had to contend with heavy rain downpours, freezing cold, high temperatures and humidity, all with no fans or heaters, but just as in wartime, this is WAR to the reenactors and they must contend with the weather and not run away to the near-by "Holiday In Express" when it gets rough out there. And they play this act as real as it can be with Unit Names as well such as: the "B Company, 82nd Reconnaissance Battalion, 2nd Armored Division" and the "193rd Rifles of the Red Army" and the German "Grossdeutschland 7th Kompanie" just to name a few. Also there were the British Commonwealth Armies, the French Resistance Army, the Japanese Army, the Chinese Nationalist Army, Naval, Coast Guard, Air Corps. Marine Units and many more diverse WW2 combat units. There was also a Civil Air Patrol unit camped out near two red 1940 light aircraft and a Coast Guard Beach Patrol station with a police dog guarding the simulated shoreline from enemy infiltrators. There were also reenactor Heros acting out ceremonies: President Franklin Delano Roosevelt arrived at the Saturday Hanger Dance in a security convoy with sirens blaring on escorting Jeeps with MP's touting sub-machine guns and with him later reenacting the famous Declaration of War Speech he gave to Congress to start the Pacific War against the Japanese; Admirals "Bull" Halsey and Admiral Nimitz gave an award to Lt. Jack Kennedy for valor in combat for saving his crew on his PT-109 patrol craft and later, General Douglas McArthur arriving on base in his C-54E "Spirit of Freedom" command plane. And there were real Heroes there too. These were the thirty-three WWII Vets telling their combat stories or selling their books in the Main Hanger off the main show ramp and at the two nearby speaker stages.

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What really made this Reading Show into an "Off-Broadway Play" were the many "Stages" that were set up in the adjacent small plane hangers near the Museum Ramp. The first one you came to was the "Officers Club". They had a stage where various singers performed, including the "Andrews Sisters", tables and chairs and even a small "O-Club Bar" set up in one corner. Unfortunately, this bar was only serving 1941 Cokes in the old green bottles. Next door they had the "Victory Society House" set up with an actual 1941 Kitchen, Dining Room, Living Room and a Bed Room all set up like a movie set. Next was the " Peppermint Candy Store", the "Hair Dresser Shop" and the "American Red Cross Sewing Center" with actual 1940 Singer Sewing Machines working away. Next to that was the "USO Radio Station 'WRDG' " broadcasting live from "Sound Studio A" with live actors reading from scripts, with sound effects (creaking doors, shoes walking, thunder, a fireplace crackling) like what you had in real live radio program broadcasts of "Captain Midnight", "Fibber McGee and Molly" and "The Bob Hope Show". Next door was the "Victory Theatre" - the small hanger was transformed into a 1940 Movie Theatre showing such 1942 hits as "Casablanca", "We'll Always Have Paris" and "Road To Morocco" with Bob Hope. Finally, at the end of all the "Stages" was the "Gulf Gas Station" with its two attendants in white uniforms with visor hats next to two 1941 vintage cars; Ethyl Gas was 11c + 4c Tax for 15c total per Gallon. Oh, the Good 'Ol Days! (See - Isn't this a Broadway Play for sure!!).

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And the Battles; There were firefights, tank battles, major unit battles, house-to-house fighting in the Village, close air support from the fighter planes, and scattered gun demonstrations for the kids all day long. As you walked around, it really sounded like you were in WW2 with the loud blank shooting and occasional pyro going off in the taxiway fields. (Somehow, the American Armies always won in those battles!) And there was the Live Entertainment, lots of it all day: There was Theresa Eaman singing 40's Hits and Jazz vocals; Frank Cubilla doing "Frank Sings Frank" with perfect singing of the famous Frank Sinatra songs with full music accompaniment; "America's Sweethearts" - three girls imitating the Andrews Sisters from the 40's; "S.O.A.P." - The Spirit of the Airwaves Players, doing the Live Radio Shows of the 40's; "Let's Dance - The Orchestra" - the full 40's Band doing the Friday Night Hanger Dance Party; "The Martin Sisters Band" - Three girls playing fiddles doing Celtic Irish, Jazz and Blue Grass wild floor-stomping fast fiddle music that makes you want to jump on the stage and do a Jig or two; Heidi Rosenau and Joe McClynn - the great 40's Dance Team demonstrating the Lindy Hop, the Balboa and the Collegiate Shag dance hits of the 1940's and the Big Draw of the Show, "Swing Fever" - The 21-member Glenn Miller Army Air Force Band all dressed up in Air Corps tan uniforms doing the Swing Hits of the 40's for the Big Evening Hanger Dance Party on Saturday Night, where so many Reading residents come back later all dressed up in 1940's dance clothes and outfits (like bright red Zoot Suits for the guys and sexy dance dresses for the gals). Before the Hanger Dance started at 7:30, they offered a nice chicken dinner in a tent next door for only $15. But what really makes this Show into a gigantic Broadway Play - besides the French village, the 15 stages, and the 3,000 army reenactors with their army tanks and trucks - is the fact that all day long you can walk around in the mist of military and civilian reenactors all dressed up in clothes and uniforms of the WWII era of the 1940's with the 1940's music playing in the background. You closed your eyes and you were in "1941" again. John Belushi, where are you?? Then there was the planes, lots of planes, warbirds scattered all around the grass and ramps. Some people came for just the planes and couldn't care less about all the other stuff. Every year there is a small army of Long-Lens guys that insist going to Lot 7, up on a high hill at the end of the main runway just to shoot the warbirds in the air as they make their tight turns around the end of the runway all day. Good point - they save the $30 Admission Fee and the Food costs. but I still say it's kind of fun walking around and mixing it up with the 1940 Civilians and Army reenactors, especially that guy on top of the M-4 Sherman Tank from the 6th Armored Division pretending he's Donald Sutherland playing "Sergeant Oddball" in "Kelly's Heroes".

B-17G, 485829. "Yankee Lady", Reading Air Show 2017

The Airplanes: The three regular visitors to the Reading Air Show were parked in the inaccessible Hot Ramp - The GEICO Skytypers with their six SNJ-2 Texans; "FIFI", the Boeing B-29A-60-BN Superfortress (44-62070) from the CAF and "Yankee Lady", the Boeing B-17G-110-VE (44-85829), actually built by the Vega Aircraft Corporation, from the Yankee Air Museum in Michigan. Of course the 17 and 29 were selling 20-minute rides for a few hundred dollars. Closer to the wire was a silver and white USAF Douglas C-47D Skytrain "Yankee Doodle Dandy" also from the Yankee Air Museum; a Curtis-Wright SB2C-5 CAF "Helldiver"; a Chance-Vought FG-1D "Corsair" and a North American P-51 D Mustang "Red Nose" from the CAF "Dixie Wing". The Main Hanger Ramp had: The C-54E (DC-4) Skymaster "Spirit of Freedom" from the Berlin Airlift Association; the Curtis C-46 Commando "Tinker Belle" from the Warriors and Warbirds Museum; the North American B-25J Mitchell bomber " Briefing Time" from the MAAM; the North American P-51D Mustang "Kwitcherbitchin"; the Bell P-63A "Kingcobra" from CAF; the Northrop P-61B "Black Widow" from MAAM; an AICHI D3A Japanese "Val" bomber (2nd Carrier Division, Carrier "Soryu", Indian Ocean, 4-5-42); a Nakajima B5N2 Japanese "Kate" bomber; a Grumman FM -2 "Wildcat" fighter; a Grumman/Eastern TBM-3E "Avenger" from MAAM; a Consolidated-Vultee SNV-1 " Valiant" from MAAM; the Boeing N2S-1 "Stearman N26M" from MAAM; the Lockheed P2V-7 "Neptune" ASW Patrol Bomber from VP-67 from MAAM; the Naval Aircraft Factory VN3N -3 "Yellow Peril" from MAAM; a little C-172 from the Reading School of Flight; a Supermarine MK-1XE "Spitfire" from MAAM; a Curtis P-40K Warhawk "The Jackie C" out of the American Air Power Museum from Republic Airport in LI, NY; a silver Beechcraft G-18S "Super" from MAAM and similar to a C-45; a Fairchild PT-23 "Cornell" monoplane trainer and a Boeing PT-17 "Stearman" trainer in colors from from Fletcher Field in Clarksdale, Miss. Near the Announcers Stand were two Mitchell bombers: the B-25J "Panchito" from the Delaware Air Museum and the B-25J "Takeoff Time" owned by Tom Duffy and based at the Millville Airport in NJ. Over by the "O-Club" stage were two red Civil Air Patrol light planes - a 1940 Fairchild 24R and a 1940 Stinson 10A. Over on the closed Taxiway H (Hotel) were a whole bunch of "L-Birds" (Liaison Piper Cub types used as FAC's) and more Primary Trainers: a Piper L-21B "Super Cub"; an Aeronica L-16A " Grasshopper"; a Piper L-4H "Grasshopper "; a grey Aeronica L-3C "Defender"; an olive Aeronca L-3C "Defender"; a grey Stinson 10/L-9; a 1941 Stinson 10A and a Fairchild 24G "Deluxe"; Additional Trainers at this end included: an SNJ-4 "Texan"; a Fairchild PT-19 "Cornell"; an SNJ-6 "Texan"; a Boeing N2S-3 "Stearman" 747; a similar Boeing N2S-3 "Stearman" 464; another PT-19 "Cornell"; a Boeing PT-17 "Stearman"; an AT-6 "Texan"; a Fairchild PT-22 " Recruit"; and another Fairchild PT-23 "Cornell" 82.

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The Flying Show began at 12:30 with the launching of the six "L-Birds" for a few laps round the field. Then the following planes went up; the seven Primary Trainers; the P-40 Warhawk Demo; the four T-6 Advanced Trainers, the single SNJ Demo; the FG-1D Corsair Demo; the Pacific / Iwo Jima Demo (FM-2, FG-1D, SB2S, SBD, TBM, Kate, Val); the FM-2 Wildcat Demo; next the European Ground Battle and the WW2 Airborne Demo Team Jump from the C-46; then the Bombers and Transports (B-17, B-25's, C-45, C-47); the B-29 Superfortress "FIFI" Demo; the Fighters (P-40; P-51's, P-63A, Spitfire); P-51 Mustang Demo and finally the GEICO Skytypers ended the flying show at about 4:30 with their usual Combat Demo Routine. The Saturday Show with the CAVU Blue Sky had the Chicken Dinner and the 1941 Hanger Dance Party that lasted to 10:00 PM. Sunday had a low cloud deck with light rain rolling in as the Skytypers finished up around 4:30. It was a great three days! See you next year when we will all celebrate WW2 one more time at Reading Airport!!! BILL SARAMA June 24, 2017

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