World War II weekend

Reenactors portraying paratroopers from the 101st Airborne Division chat at a basecamp set up during the World War II weekend recently at Reading.

Annual airshow held in Reading

READING — The 29th Mid-Atlantic Air Museum World War II Weekend was held recently at the Reading Airport.

If you’ve never been, and you have an interest in military history, or history in general, it’s an event not to be missed. Among the warbirds featured include the B-29 (which dropped the atomic bombs over Japan), B-17, P-51 Mustangs and this year, the B-24 Liberator. With only a couple airworthy B-29s and B-24s left, watching these massive bombers take off and land was truly an experience not to be missed.

It was my first time seeing the B-24 in person. The four-engine bomber is the one our esteemed colleague and friend Joe Diblin famously trained pilots on during the war. He also famously found a flaw in a hydraulic line that was overheating and causing fires, often blowing up mid-air and killing crews.

Diblin’s explanation of the “boom-boom” bomber is worth hearing or reading about. Had it not been discovered, the flaw would have grounded one of the birds that played a key role in winning the war for the allies. It was used throughout Europe and Pacific.

As awesome as it is seeing these historic warplanes on the ground, and in many cases, soaring into the air and over the airfield, there’s plenty more with this annual gathering. Reenactors pepper the grounds, set up in makeshift encampments and in full World War II gear. Visitors can see the actual guns and mortars used by troops, as well as the gear of the day, from rucksacks to trenching tools.

Where else can you pick up an M1 Garrand — the rifle that won the war? Where else can you see German tanks, anti-aircraft guns and more? 

Seeing people who’ve never picked up that rather heavy rifle and having it explained that troops carried not only that but rucksacks weighing up to 70 pounds really put it in perspective.

There’s even a battle reenactment set in a small French town.

A USO dance played out in one building and everyone played the part, from the authentic uniforms and dresses to the haircuts and hair styles of the day. There was even medic tents set up for those interested in how casualties were treated and staged in rear areas, and a Salvation Army bus which provided services to various parts of the country during the war.

Then there are the actual veterans of World War II. This year, what used to be a hangar full of World War II veterans had dwindled to just several tables. It was further evidence those of the Greatest Generation are quickly leaving us. Sadly, just in the weeks leading up to the show, two of the more popular veterans — Richard Cole, who was the co-pilot alongside Col. Jim Doolittle during his famous B-25 raid over Japan, and Mahlon Fink, a Marine who fought at Iwo Jima, passed away.

Along with veterans of the war, there were two Nazi concentration camp survivors, one of whom proudly displayed his number, still tattooed onto his forearm. The other, another friend of ours, David Wisnia, was there for the Saturday events.

“I don’t want people to forget,” said David Tuck, as he rolled up his sleeve and showed his still visible tattoo.

These are the stories that are quickly disappearing. Plenty of people are working, and have worked, to preserve this history, however it’s just not the same as hearing these first-hand accounts from the men who were there.

World War II weekend is dubbed the largest event of its kind on the East Coast. It’s hard to argue otherwise. The three-day weekend is packed with events and opportunities to see many of these planes up close and personal.

For those with the means, you can even book short rides on these historic warbirds during the weekend.

 

Chris Brady is managing editor at The Standard-Journal and author of three Vietnam-based books, “Remembering Firebase Ripcord,” “A War We Can’t Forget” and the novel, “We Answered the Call.” He can be reached at chris@standard-journal.com.

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