Reading, PA WWII Weekend

DSC_0063[2] “Yesterday, December 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy, the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”   President Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke those immortal words nearly seventy-three years ago and again, reenacted by Delmas P. Wood, in Reading, PA in remembrance of World War Two. The Mid-Atlantic Air Museum holds its annual World War II Weekend and Air Show the first weekend in June.  This year marked the Museum’s twenty-fourth annual show and the 70th anniversary of D-Day.  The three day event is all authentic, featuring more than 1,700 WWII military and civilian re-enactors along with hundreds of encampments representing nations that were involved in “The War”.  For three days the gates open at 8:30 am to the nation's largest and best known historic commemoration of life in 1940’s America.   The weekend was dedicated to the "Greatest Generation" not to glorify, but to remember the war.  Strolling the concrete walk and taxiways to the sound of music from the times, weekend visitors mingled with men and women attired in period dress along with meticulously restored farm equipment and bicycles.  While “the boys” were overseas fighting fascism, the home front was holding its own.  Authentic displays included a correctly recreated 1940's house decorated with food stuffs and household items, and a fully stocked department store selling period goods.  Museum quality vintage cars were lined up with gas ration cards in hand at the fully restored visible pump Gulf filling station.  “Flo” was in uniform, cheerfully providing full service including checking your oil and washing the windshield.  Continuing on, sightseers passed by an air raid warden’s station and a pile of scrap metal collected for the war effort.  Listening to a live radio broadcast from the studio of "WRDG", appropriately clad youngsters were busy playing board games, rolling by on skates and playing jacks or shooting marbles.  And everywhere, the Red Cross was eagerly collecting donations. Friday Friday was aircraft arrival day.  Although not an official air show day, there was plenty of flying activity with show planes arriving throughout the day.  Friday also offered show goers a chance to book a flight on one of the show‘s warbirds.  Rides for hire could be had on a bomber like the B-25J PANCHITO or B-17G YANKEE LADY, the P-51D Mustang RED NOSE fighter or trainers like a PT-19 CORNELL, Vultee BT-13 VALIANT or SNJ Stearman.  All made multiple take-off and landings providing the crowd with plenty of opportunities for photographing these beautifully restored WWII aircraft.  Meanwhile, dozens of Allied and Axis combat units were staking out strategic parcels from the twelve acres of available ground.  Pacific and European theaters were represented by U.S. Marine, Army and Army Air Corps encampments, along with British Commonwealth and Japanese Imperial Forces, and the German Wehrmacht.  Tents for both sides, that accommodated several troops and laden with the smell of canvas, were equipped with cots, footlockers, letters from home and some necessities to make their war life a little more comfortable like- candy bars, playing cards, mugs of coffee, bottles of coke and packs of cigarettes .  Their protective shelters also included the implements of war like authentic radios and large collections of small arms weapons guarded by tanks and artillery pieces.  Support units were also well stocked.  The correspondence tent had tables full of typewriters, mess tents were ready to prepare meals and wash dishes, and the medial tents were fully stocked with instruments and medicines- prepared to perform any necessary operations.  The US Coast Guard tent displayed a decade worth of various uniforms for formal dress and all weather conditions.  At 11:00am show visitors got a close up look at some of the two hundred fully restored American and European military vehicles including motorcycles, jeeps, cars and armored personal carriers, as they convoyed for the "Liberation of Reading".  Returning to the airport later in the afternoon, they were called into action when German troops engaged in a skirmish with French Resistance and Allied forces around the battle scarred French Village. Air Show At 1:00pm Saturday and again Sunday, the three hour main event featured flying by some of the sixty plus static display aircraft, orchestrated by Air Boss Greg Witmer.  The gentle voice and very knowledgeable Larry Rutt called all the exciting action, at the same time educating the audience about the beautifully renovated WWII planes.  Leading off was the Civil Air Patrol represented by a Stinson 10 and Fairchild 24-G.  Opening the show for the military were the LIAISON (observation/utility) birds.  These included the Piper L-21B, Aeronca L-16A and L-3C, Interstate L-6, Stinson L-5C, Piper L-4H and Taylorcraft L-2M. Liaison aircraft were used to direct artillery fire, sometimes flying up to ten miles down range over enemy territory.  The planes were attached to and worked with four artillery battalions (one division) or traveled as an independent group, moving where needed.  The pilots were fully qualified artillery officers, the back-seaters acted as forward observers.  The planes would communicate to their commanders via a forty-megahertz radio.  They in turn relayed the messages back to headquarters via radio or a half mile hard-wired land-line phone.  Like other military units, these planes were supported by mechanics, cooks and radio operators, etc. – all transported to the frontlines via trucks. Next up to fly were the PRIMARY and ADVANCED TRAINER aircraft; North American SNJ-4, AT-6 and SNJ-6, Boeing N2S-1, N2S-3 and PT-17, Fairchild PT-19, PT-23A, PT-22 and PT-23, Consolidated Vultee SNV-1 and BT-13, and a Naval Aircraft Factory N3N-3.  Continually flying throughout the war, large TRANSPORT planes like the Douglas C-54E SPIRIT OF FREEDOM and C-47DSECOND CHANCE, and Curtiss C-46 TINKER BELLE delivered critically needed supplies to all services.  The show continued on with the BOMBERS; Consolidated B-24DIAMOND LIL, Boeing B-17GYANKEE LADY, North American B-25J TAKEOFF TIME and B-25D YANKEE WARRIOR. On the ground, local resident Bob Grenz was on hand relating his experience as a B-29 bombardier and demonstrated his very own Norden Bombsight.  First used in 1944, the Norden Bombsight was so secret guards would bring it out to the plane and then retrieve it when the mission was complete.  From a downed B-17, the Germans were able to gain a copy of the bombsight and reserve engineer the instrument’s design.  The Norden was also used on United States Army Air Forces B-24s. Finishing out the air show and tearing up the skies were the FIGHTER planes.  As the Pacific Theater battle raged at show left, the Grumman FM-2 WILDCAT and Douglas SBD-5 DAUNTLESS swarmed and dived, securing an American victory against Japanese naval forces, as if in the Battle of Midway.  The Grumman TBM-3E OLD TANKER No. 9 and Curtiss-Wright SB2C-5 HELLDIVER continued the fight by supporting U.S. Marines- replete with flame throwers belching clouds of black smoke- in their effort to dislodge stubborn Imperial Japanese island defenders.  Meanwhile at show center, the North American P-51DsRED NOSE and THE REBEL, Supermarine Spitfire Mk XVIII flown by Jim Beasely and Republic P-47D JACKY'S REVENGE were screaming by, supporting American infantry and armor units as they attacked the German Wehrmacht across open ground. In between fighting, troops visited the Officers Club where they took advantage of a fully stocked bar, while smoking cigars and listening to one of their favorite songstress’s- Theresa Eaman.  Later in the day it was a belly full of laughs with the hilarious act of Bud Abbott (Bill Riley) and Lou Costello (Joe Ziegler) - “Who's On First?”  In the evenings it was the Manhattan Dolls singing “Chattanooga Choo Choo" and "Sentimental Journey".  Sunday morning, all were invited to attend a battlefield Church service conducted on the hood of a jeep.   P-61 Black Widow On the ramp and patiently waiting to someday make her flying debut was the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum’s P-61 Black Widow.  In 1980 a decision was made to try and retrieve the plane from a mountain top in New Guinea where she crashed during a test flight nearly seventy years ago.  Most of the crash damage was to the bottom of the plane as it landed with gear up.  From 1980 to 1988 the museum made negotiations with both the U.S. and Indonesian governments as well as raising the hundreds of thousands of dollars it took to retrieve the plane from the dense jungle.  Following its 1988 retrieval and with the plane’s original design plans obtained from the Northrup Aircraft Company, enough money had been raised by 1991 to begin restoration.  A plane must be 70% original parts in order to be considered original.  This plane will be nearly 80% original with the remaining parts being remanufactured.  To date thousands of man-work-hours have been logged with no timeline on when the plane will be completed.  Known as the “Forgotten Widow”, this ultra rare P-61B is only one of four known to exist.  The museum actively encourages financial donations to help give the Black Widow her wings. Hangers Chock full of fascinating educational displays, memorabilia, military equipment, models, artwork and books, the museum’s Main and T-Hangars also featured some famous WWII personalities.  These WWII vets were available for the public to meet and sign the show-goers’ program books as well as hear their first-hand accounts and stories in the briefing tent including Doolittle Raiders Richard Cole, co-pilot of crew #1- now living in Comfort, TX.  For Friday and Saturday nights, the main hangar was cleared for ham and BBQ chicken dinners followed by dancing concerts to the fabulous toe-tapping 1940’s Artie Shaw's "Let's Dance" and Glenn Miller’s "Swing Fever" Big Bands.  All weekend a large outdoor area was set aside for an extensive militaria flea market consisting of more than one-hundred and twenty vendors. Next year, the first weekend in June, will be The Mid-Atlantic Air Museum’s 25th World War II Weekend and Air Show, as well as the 70th anniversary of V-E and V-J Day.   Article by: Daniel O. Myers Photos by: Bob Finch  
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