Reading, PA World War II Weekend

Scottish Rite Troops

We tend to denote our lives by significant dates and memorable events. 2015 provided such an occasion, marking the 70th anniversary to the end of World War II and the 25th year for the annual Reading, Pa World War II Weekend. No other show in the country, with air and ground displays, better depicts the times. Throughout the day at Reading, hundreds of re-enactors with period firearms, tents stocked with voluminous military objects and meticulously attired in appropriate uniforms, portrayed the following historic events.


Although the unemployment rate had dropped from its 1933 high of twenty-five percent, 1941 still saw the nation gripped by the great depression. While many Americans were able to gain meaningful employment through government programs like the Works Projects, initiated by Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR), most had grown accustomed to making sacrifices- doing with less or completely without some of life’s simplest pleasures. They were a moral, honest, God fearing generation that even in the height of the depression never felt the need to lock their doors. They would later earn the deserved title of the nation’s “Greatest Generation.”

Americans were accustomed to seeing headlines about the war of aggression in Europe and the Pacific. Never thinking it would come to the shores of the United States, the December 7, 1941 sudden and vicious surprise attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor changed all of that. The following day FDR addressed Congress and asked for a declaration of war. America had entered the fray. The nation was mobilized for war.


Most of the nation’s capable young men, from America’s diverse melting pot, were eager to sign up and join the fight. Just out of high school, together, entire graduating classes went through basic training. Side-by-side they did grueling calisthenics, ran obstacle courses, learned to fire small arms, command large artillery pieces, drove tanks and flew airplanes. Upon graduating camp they were shipped off together to Europe or the Pacific. They laughed and played together, shared stories about home, discussed their families, girl friends and talked about what they were going to do when the war was over. Side-by-side they fought together with their fellow buddies. Sadly, many died and fallen comrades were mourned. They also prayed together as bombs, mortars and bullets whistled over their heads as they lay in the frozen foxholes of Europe or were pinned downed on the searing hot, humid beaches of the Pacific.


Those at home were praying as well. Everyone knew someone that was away in “The War.” Many families had several family members in the military at the same time; husbands, uncles, brothers, cousins and sons alike. Some signed-on early in the war, fighting their way across Africa and Europe or hopped nearly every island in the Pacific- not returning home until the war was complete. Many flew their required number of bombing missions and then signed on for more. Stories were told about crew members, for circumstances beyond their control, missed their assigned missions only to later learn that the plane they were scheduled to be on didn’t make it back. Some able-bodied young men stayed home and were considered part of the wartime “Essential Workforce.”

Numerous letters were written and received through-out the course of the war. Those welcomed correspondences informed the soldiers, sailors, marines and airman of every day happenings of life at home. More than a million fathers served overseas, leaving their children and sometimes pregnant wives behind. They would later learn, through a letter from home, whether they were the father of a boy or girl. Some of those letters related sad news as well. Family members, neighbors and friends had passed away, while the fighting men and women never had a chance to say goodbye. Those overseas found some comfort when contributions from home helped the Red Cross provide those on the front with “Care Packages” that contained among other items; chocolates, cigarettes and playing cards.

Home Front

Filling Station

Meanwhile at home, after more than ten years of economic and financial depression, the nation as a whole was asked to make even more sacrifices. Reading show goers were invited to walk through the “Home Front” which accurately depicted a 1940’s House, Department Store, Movie Theater and Filling Station- all appropriately outfitted with period correct accoutrements. The war brought economic prosperity to many, but just about everything was rationed, including fuel, food commodities and rubber tires. Today we participate in recycle, reduce and reuse as a communal responsibility. During the war, the rationing of scarce commodities and recycling re-useable materials was a necessary and accepted part of everyday life. Metal and rubber was recycled, clothing and home furnishing were mended and automobiles, appliances and machines were continually repaired. While the “boys” were overseas, those state-side contributed by volunteering for Civilian Home Defense- guarding sites important to the war effort. Volunteer Civil Air Patrol members reported to local airports to scan the skies for enemy aircraft while others guarded the coastal water ways in efforts to thwart an invasion. Nearly every household planted a “Victory Garden.”

Andrerws Sisters

While the men went off to fight in the war, in their absence, women stepped up to fill vacancies in factories and even took men’s places on sports teams. Other women were called to the war effort by ferrying military planes, providing medical assistance as nurses or doing volunteer work wherever needed. All of this while raising their children or unselfishly providing for other family members. Households across America with family members in the military hung Blue Stars in their front windows. A Gold Star represented someone killed in combat. Many had more than one of each on display.

Abbott and Costello

At home, the public was able to temporarily escape their everyday obligations by going to the movies or listening to live entertainment on the radio to the likes of; Abbott and Costello, Fibber McGee and Molly, the Andrews Sisters or the sounds of the Big Bands of Tommy Dorsey and Glen Miller. Reading show attendees were entertained through-out the day by these celebrities. In the evening, they danced to the sounds of Swing Music.


Flying Tiger

As the Reading visitors walked around the grounds they came upon, probably the show’s greatest resource, World War II veterans that were happy to share their own individual stories. There were tens-of thousands that landed at Normandy, fought their way across France and Germany or island-hopped their way across the Pacific and lived to tell their story. There were stories from those captured by the enemy and taken to POW camps where they experienced horrific treatment by the enemy. Those lucky enough to survive the camps awaited final liberation. There were recollections from P-51 pilots that had gotten into dogfights with German Messerschmitts or Corsair pilots with Japanese Zeros. One pilot recounted, after a fierce air-to-air engagement; both advisories had run out of bullets, flew up to one another and waved, acknowledging respect for each other before breaking off to fly home to their respected home bases- only to return and fight another day. There were those who were celebrated by the citizens as they liberated European towns or their fellow soldiers held in a POW camp. Those that first stumbled upon the concentration death camps witnessed horrible nightmarish memories they never forgot. Many committed heroic acts, although were loathed to admitting it. All knew and experienced fear, but rose to the occasion. Some took on natural leadership roles. Many received medals and accommodations.

Returning Home
When these warriors returned home they rarely spoke of their war-time experiences but instead; established or resumed careers, got married, bought houses, had families and built the greatest peacetime economy America has known. Their children would become known as “Baby Boomers.” Many of these veterans lived in to their eighties and beyond before finally revealing some of these accounts to their family. One such recollection had an Army officer who volunteered to go on a mission to rescue victims held captive by the Japanese who were brutally beaten and starved after the Bataan Death March. His family would not hear his tale until decades later when this hero was in the final stages of life. Unfortunately, 406,000 would pay the ultimate sacrifice and did not return home to tell their stories but instead remained where they were cut down. Their families never having closure or able to ever visit their loved ones final resting place. Those not returning left an estimated 183,000 fatherless children.

Each day approximately four hundred and thirty World War II veterans die. We should value and appreciate the time they have left to share with us. When able, take the opportunity to glom onto a family member, friend or neighbor, relative or even a complete stranger, and listen to their stories. Each is a unique well of knowledge from which to draw. If you have means, take a Greatest Generation veteran to the Reading show and share the experience. It will be rewarding and memorable for you both. Nature will eventually take its toll and like falling leaves or melting snows brought on by the changing seasons, they too will be forever lost. The next anniversary may be celebrated without them.

“Yankee Lady” B-17

Yankee Lady B-17

“Yankee Lady” (s/n 44-85829) was built by the Vega Division of Lockheed Aircraft Corporation of Burbank, CA and delivered to the USAAF in July 1945. She then went to Dallas, TX for modifications and placed in storage at South Plains Field, TX along with other brand new B-17s. In February 1946, the plane was then assigned to the 4104th Base Unit at Rome AFB, NY before being placed back again in storage. In September 1946 the aircraft was one of sixteen Flying Fortresses that were transferred to the U.S. Coast Guard (CGAS San Francisco) and re-designated a PB-1G. In 1959, the bomber was assigned the civil registration N3193G. In 1966 and after three owners (Ace Smelting, Fairchild Aerial Survey Company and Biegert Bros.), the plane was sold to Aircraft Specialties, Inc. of Mesa, AZ where it joined numerous other B-17s as air tankers to fight forest fires and apply pesticides on crops and trees. In 1969, the aircraft was one of five B-17s flown to Hawaii and used in the filming of the movie “Tora, Tora, Tora.” Its current owner, The Yankee Air Museum located at Willow Run Airport in Ipsilanti, MI, took procession of the B-17G on July 2, 1986 and began a nine year restoration project before it flew again in 1995.

“FIFI” B-29

FIFI B-29 Reading Tower
Designed as a replacement for the B-17 and B-24 aircraft, the Boeing B-29 Superfortress began its service life in 1944. Having longer range and greater bomb loads than its predecessors- necessary for operations in the World War II Pacific Theater- the B-29 was also used in the Korean War and through the late 1950’s.

Built by Boeing at their Renton, WA factory in 1945, the B-29A (s/n 44-62070) was delivered to the USAAF in Kansas where it served as an administrative aircraft, then briefly placed in ‘desert storage’ before returning to active duty in 1953. Following retirement in 1958, the bomber was part of a group of thirty-six B-29s placed at the US Navy Naval Weapons Center and Bombing Range at NAS China Lake, CA to be used as gunnery targets. After much negotiation with the U.S. Air Force, which owned the aircraft, the Navy agreed to release one plane. The CAF officially acquired the bomber in March 1971, registering it as civilian N529B. Late in 1974, the CAF’s B-29 was christened “FIFI” and is currently only one of two surviving flying examples. Based at Addison, TX, “FIFI” tours the U.S.A. and Canada taking part in air shows and offering flights to the public. Besides air displays, “FIFI” has also appeared in numerous films.

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