READING – WORLD WAR TWO AT ITS FINEST
(Here’s another look at the World War II Weekend, held yearly in Reading PA, through the eyes and words of Bill Sarama and Don Linn. See Shawn Byers’ take on the show in an earlier article posted at the end of August ed.)
The Reading Regional Airport (RDG), three miles northwest or Reading, PA., and also known as Carl A. Spaatz Field, had its big WW2 Warbirds Air Show for 2019, officially called “A Gathering of Warbirds”, on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, June 6, 7 and 8 of this year. Sure , they had 65 warbirds show up, the most ever, and a lot of them went up for a neat five hour flying show, but this Air Show is not just about the airplanes. For years the local citizens, the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum, the Airport Authority, the vendors and the 5,000 Army Reenactors have all combined every year to make this Show into a gigantic equivalent of a 1944 Broadway Play about World War Two. The big difference is that when you go to New York, the action is all in front of you (usually). At Reading everyone combines to make the action all around you, to effectively transport you back to the European Fields and Pacific Islands of World War 2. As you walk around, this Broadway Play is playing in front of you, behind you, next to you, and in the sky above you, as you and the 50,000 people who come each day experiences as they walk through the airport’s grassy fields and closed taxiways and ramps of Reading Airport. Here the encampments of multiple armies of 5,000 WW2 Reenactors are set up for your close quarter viewing. When you walk around the airport fields you are magically transported back to the encampments of WWII. It is the “Twilight Zone” now!!! Close your eyes here! “It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call: ‘The Twilight Zone’ ” — You have now been magically transported back to World War 2. It is now late June 1944:
When you walk off the bus, get scanned by Security, pay the Admission Fee, and buy a Program, then you walk through the gate, and now you enter the “Twilight Zone”: You immediately walk into the “French Village”. There are numerous small buildings set up to look like a French Village in WW2 — There’s a food store, a shoe repair, bakery, homes, auto repair stand, and others that all look like a French Village in WW2 in June of 1944. The shops all have store keepers and residents dressed in WW2 1944 French clothes. There’s the sound of guns in the distance (Reenactors demonstrating machine guns with blanks and remote faux tank battles on the closed taxiway grass). The shop keepers say the Germans are nearby (and they really are!) but fear not, the village is now occupied by US and British forces providing security. When you walk up a slight hill you start seeing American Army half tracks, jeeps, trucks and tanks just outside the Village. And when you get on top of the slight hill and look around in the distance, you realize you have in fact entered “The Twilight Zone”! — As far as the eye can see there are encampments of every army from the War and all kinds of Army trucks and tanks and all kinds of soldiers in different uniforms walking around and in their tents. Yes folks, you have entered WW2, June 1944, and you are a few miles inland from the Normandy Beachhead. What happens is that many different Reenactor groups from distant locations in the northeast start coming to the Reading Airport early in the week, setting up their tents, bringing in their Army vehicles, to start actually living here until the following Monday when the “Play” finally ends and they all go back to the real world. They dress in WW2 uniforms of their particular Army unit, cook, eat, shower, and sleep in the field for almost a week, rain or shine. Accompanying the troops are tanks, jeeps, half tracks, trucks from many different WW2 armies — American British, French, Canadian, German, Italian, Russian, Chinese, Australian, Japanese, all happily co-existing In Peace for purpose of this Broadway Performance, except for a few fake battles with tanks, troops, artillery and CAS air cover with a bit of pyro for effect.
We enjoyed walking around many specialized Reenactor groups. Just to name a few: “Grossdeutschland 7th Kompanie – Living History”, a German unit that brought in German tanks and trucks; “B Company, 82nd Reconnaissance, Battalion, 2nd Armored Division”, an American unit with troops and armored vehicles and “Civil Air Patrol WW2 Living History” came in with two 1941 CAP airplanes and 1941 pilots and support staff and tents. There were a total of 47 separate 1944 military units that came to Reading to bivouac in the grass for a week.
Reading was not like a typical air show where everything is arranged in a straight line on a long ramp. Here, after you left the French Village, you could go anywhere in a 360 degree direction to visit the army encampments and see the 65 warbirds that were scattered on taxiways and ramps near the Reenactors camps. Off to the left was a huge Militaria Flea Market with 130 vendors selling 1941 WW2 uniforms, suits, dresses, books, tapes, models, etc, mixed in with food vendors with those great authentic Philly Cheese Steaks. Off to the right was the large Hanger Ramp with lots of Heavy Metal like the C-54, C-46, C-47’s and the recently restored C-97. The large Hanger had 74 tables set up for militaria, books, museum handouts, exhibits, and WW2 veterans selling and autographing their books. At the ramp wire was the “Hot Ramp” with planes that would be flying later like the B-29 “FiFi”, the B-24 “Diamond ‘Lil”, the B-17G “Yankee Lady” and a bunch of fighters. Some of them were providing revenue rides in the morning. If you walked to the center after you left the “Village” you would get to seven small GA hangers with open doors that were made up to be “Scene Stages” for WW2 spaces — an Officers Club that had singing acts all day and served only Coke in the old green bottles at the bar with two planes parked in front, a typical 1944 home, a grocery store, a live NBC radio studio sound stage, a real 1944 gas station, and even a small movie theatre!
As you walked around all of this at least 25% of the visitors were dressed up in WW2 1944 civilian clothes. Even the $5.00 Program was set up as a WW2 1944 Magazine called “War News” with a cover showing paratroopers jumping out of a C-47 and inside 1944 advertisements done up to promote current stores or organizations.
They even had actors walking around portraying such WW2 heroes as President Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt, Lt. JG Jack Kennedy, Winston Churchill, Gen. Douglas McArthur, Adm. Chester Nimitz, Adm. William “Bull” Halsey, Gen. George “Blood and Guts” Patton, Adm. Jack Fletcher, Adm. Ray Spruance, Gen. Joe “Vinegar Joe” Stilwell, and Gen. Carl A. “Tooey” Spatz (Commander, Strategic Air Forces in Europe). They even rolled out the C-54 and all the Generals came out, even Lt. Kennedy, to give patriotic war speeches. Yes, the Pacific Theatre was well represented. And these guys were right out of Central Casting — they really looked like the heroes they were portraying!!
And there were many performers performing on multiple stages: Frank Cubillo did “Frank does Frank” and many famous Frank Sinatra songs; Theresa Eaman sang 1940’s hits; America’s Sweethearts did the Andrews Sisters from the 40s; S.O.A.P – Spirit Of the American Airwaves Players did 1940s live radio programs in an NBC live sound stage; “Swing Fever” was a 1940s forty piece Big Band dressed in military uniforms to be the Glen Miller Army Air Force Band of 1944; “Lets Dance” was a smaller 10 piece band doing 1940s Swing music; The Martin Sisters Band of three sisters did fiddle music and did some really fast swing tunes on them fiddles; Heidi Rosenau and Joe McGlynn demonstrated some wild Swing dances of the 40s, like – see if you remember these you old guys – the Lindy Hop, the Balboa and the Collegigate Shag; and the Forecast Quartet were doing some Barbershop Quartet music of the 40s (anybody out there remember that?).
What was the coolest thing at the air show on Saturday night was the Hanger Dance. First for a few bucks there was the sit down Chicken Dinner right outside the Big Hanger that had been cleared out of all the vendor tables from the afternoon. The Big Band “Swing Fever” was setting up and played a couple of practice tunes from their stage. Then at 7:00 there were the sirens and red lights from the MP jeeps with the MP’s holding their Tommy Guns. Then came an open top 1940 black Chrysler convertible with President Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt with six Secret Service members in suits and sun glasses running along side on both sides of the Presidents car. The small Presidential motorcade drove right up to the band stage and the President got out and went up to the Stage. The band now played “Hail To The Chief”. Then the faux President Roosevelt gave the Presidential “Declaration of War” speech that Roosevelt had actually given the day after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. At the end the audience cheered. Then the band played all five anthems of the five uniformed services. Everyone cheered louder. The President then was driven out. Then the band started playing Big Band music and the dancing began. The hanger was packed with with many dancing couples, half of whom were actually dressed in 1940’s party outfits and even a few “Zoot Suits” (anybody?). There were two Big Bands: the small one later on but the Glen Miller AAF Band did most of the playing along with a singer for some of the tunes. The Hanger Party went on until 10 PM. The strongest drinks being served was a thing called “Coca Cola”. Never heard of it.
Then there were the planes, the most for any Reading air show ever, 65 beautiful WW2 Warbirds, on the “Hot Ramp”, on the Static Ramp, on the Taxiways and on the Grass near the encampments. Many were towed out or taxied out during the day for the flying show pretty close to the spectators. The Ramp Directors blocked off the tow routes with temporary rope as the planes were being moved around. But it still made for a busy ramp scene close to many of the 50,000 spectators. Here was the Warbird Lineup: Starting from the Big Hanger: (1) the newly restored a Boeing C-97G Stratofreighter “Angel of Deliverance” from the Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation; (2) a Lockheed P2V-7 Neptune Patrol Bomber from the 50s, from VP-67, owned by the Mid -Atlantic Air Museum (MAAM); (3) a 1975 Piper PA-28R-200 owned by the Reading School of Flight; (4) a 1945 Grumman TBM-3U Avenger “She’s The Boss” in blue camo, owned by Kevin Lynch out of Westchester County Airport in White Plains, NY; (5) a Douglas C-47B Skytrain “Luck of the Irish”, “CK” nose, gloss olive paint, unusual nose markings included 13 red crosses, 24 white RR box cars and 2 parachutes; (6) a 1946 Piper J3C-65 “Cub” owned by Greg Kootz that lands on top of a pickup truck as an LZ; (7) a Douglas C-54E / R5D Skymaster “Spirit of Freedom” owned by the Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation; (8) a Curtiss C-46F Commando “Tinker Belle” from the Warriors and Warbirds Museum;
(9) a Boeing B-29 Superfortress “FIFI” from the CAF and currently based at the Vintage Flying Museum located at Meacham Airport, Fort Worth, Texas; (10) a Consolidated B-24 “Diamond ‘Lil” from the CAF, based at the “B-29/B-24 Squadron” at Fort Worth, Texas; (11) a Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress “Yankee Lady” from the Yankee Air Museum out of Willow Run Airport in Yipailanti, Michigan; (12) a North American TB-25N Mitchell light bomber “Panchito” from the Delaware Aviation Museum, in Georgetown, DE (Panchito is currently up for sale at $1.4M – Anyone?); (13) a 1942 silver Consolidated Vultee BT-13 / SNV-1 “Valiant” owned by MAAM; (14) a North American SNJ-4 Texan, Navy NATC colors, MAAM; (15) a North American B-25J Mitchell bomber “Briefing Time”, MAAM; and (16) the prize of the Museum, its Northrop P-61B-1-NO “Black Widow” night fighter, silver bare metal fuselage only, with a beautiful bathing beauty nose art “Moonbeam Lady”, still undergoing long term total restoration to bring it up to flying status. The wings and engines are being separately restored elsewhere. This aircraft was found as a total wreck in a Pacific island jungle in Papua New Guinea and was recovered in 1989 by MAAM and brought back to the MAAM in pieces. It is expected to be flying in a few years.
Further down the taxiways were: (17) a 1944 North American silver P-51D Mustang “Kwitcherbitchin”, owned by Tom Duffy, who has an extensive Warbird collection in Millville, NJ; (18) a North American P-51D Mustang “Tiger’s Revenge”, out of the American Airpower Museum (AAM) at Republic Airport, LI; (19) a Curtiss P-40K Warhawk “The Jackie C” from the AAM; (20) a Japanese Aichi D3A “Val” replica, made from a 1945 Consolidated Vultee BT-13B (SNV-2) Valiant, grey, red meatball, black nose, “B1-211” on tail, with two Japanese pilots in WW2 uniforms standing next to it for photo ops; (21) a Mitsubishi A6M2 Model 21 “Zero” replica “The Last Samurai” nose art, originally a 1952 Canadian Harvard Mk.IV (Harvard T-6G), “A1-101” tail, red and yellow band, in the movie “Tora, Tora, Tora”; (22) a tan L-3B Piper Cub near the Jap fighters; (23) a Japanese Nakajima B5N2 “Kate” green Jap torpedo bomber replica, torpedo strapped on the under belly, tail “B11-310”, originally from a North American SNJ-4 Texan, Owner CAF “Dixie Wing”, in five movies, including “Tora, Tora, Tora”; (24) a 1943 Consolidated-Vultee blue PBY-5A (28-5ACF) “Catalina”, from Jerry Yagen’s “Fighter Factory” at the Military Air Museum in Virginia Beach; (25) a 1944 Grumman FM-2 “Wildcat” from Lewes, Delaware; (26) a Grumman TBM-3E “Avenger”, dark blue and light blue belly, VT-23, CVL-23, USS Langley, “Old Tanker No. 94”, MAAM; (27) a 1943 Chance-Vought / Goodyear FG-1D “Corsair” from the CAF Dixie Wong in Dallas, Texas; (28) a North American B-25D Mitchell bomber “Yankee Warrior” from the Yankee Air Museum in Michigan;
Far out on the grass was: (29) an Aero L-39C Albatross jet in blue camo taking off close by; (30) a Douglas C-47 Skytrain “Second Chance” from the American Airpower Museum at Republic Airport in LI that was parked right next to the 82nd Airborne Parachute encampment; (31) a North American P-51D Mustang “Red Nose”, with, of course, a red nose, from the CAF Dixie Wing; (32) a yellow 1938 Lamb CJ-1, a modified Buecker Bu133 Jungmeister bi-wing German Trainer from Harrisburg, PA; (33) a 1942 Boeing PT-17 (D75N1) “Kaydet” bi-wing trainer, blue fuselage and yellow wings, out of Wilmington; (34) a 1943 Boeing-Stearman N2S-3 (PT-17) yellow bi-wing Navy trainer, Marines, “Radial Rhapsody”, from LI, NY; 35) a Naval Aircraft Factory 1940 yellow Navy N3N-3 “Yellow Peril” bi-wing trainer, “A Stearman On Steroids” nose art from Islip, NY; (36) a 1941 blue mono-wing Fairchild M-62A-3 “Cornell II” (PT-26) trainer; (37) a Fairchild PT-19 trainer; (38) a blue PT-23A trainer; (39) a blue PT-17; (40) a blue 1941 Boeing-Stearman PT-17 trainer; (41) a blue bi-wing Boeing-Stearman N2S-3 trainer; (42) a 1945 British De Havilland DH.82C “Tiger Moth” bi-wing; (43) a 1943 Fairchild M-62A3 (PT-26B-FE) RAF Cornell; (44) a 1940 red Stenson-10A CAP plane; (45) a Stempe-Vertongen SV-4C British bi-wing trainer; (46) a 1944 grey North American AT-6 Trainer (N36), a very short “N” number because it was an early US Weather Bureau “Storm Tracker” plane and the current owners requested to FAA to keep the original short “N” number; (47) a dark blue 1949 North American T-6G Texan with Navy SNJ-7 colors; (48) a 1942 Boeing-Stearman N2S-3 Navy yellow bi-wing; (49) Kevin Russo’s 1958 North American SNJ-6 in gloss grey; (50) a grey 1943 North American SNJ-5 Texan; (51) a 1940 silver gloss with a red tail and nose AT-6D Harvard III with a “Punching Bird” nose art; (52) a 1956 grey with yellow wings North American SNJ-4 Texan;
Over by the small hanger stages were: (53) a Grumman G-44 / J4F-1 “Widgeon”, a small twin-engine USCG silver seaplane owned by Tom Duffy out of Millville, NJ; (54) a 1940 Fairchild 24R red CAP mono-wing; (55) a 1940 Stinson-10C red CAP mono-wing; (56) a Douglas C-47D Skytrain “Hairless Joe” out of the Yankee Air Museum in Michigan; (57) a fourth Japanese fighter, a 1937 Mitsubushi A6M2 Model 21 “Zero”, light tan color, big red meatball, “A-1-1-1- 21” on tail. “The Last Samurai” nose art, from theTexas Flying Legends. Then we had a whole bunch of “L-Birds” on the grass; (58) a tan Aeronca L-3C / 60-TF Defender “Le Mutt”; (59) a 1946 Piper J3C-65; (60) an olive drab 1944 Piper L-4HP; (61) a Stinson-10 / L-9 orange CAP plane, ” Bloody Mary”‘ from the Delaware Valley CAF; (62) an olive 1944 Taylorcraft DCO-65 / L-2M; (63) an Aeronca 78CM / L-16A “Grasshopper” from MAAM; (64) a 1946 olive Piper J3C-65 “Cub” L-4B; and (65) a remotely located Curtiss TP-40N Warhawk “American Dream” owned by the Warbird Adventures Flying School out of Kissimmee Florida.
The Announcer for the Flying Show was “Fast Eddie” Luder and the Air Boss was Greg Witter. The Flying Show started at 12 Noon with the arrival of FDR, the Generals and the Admirals along with a few speeches at Show Center. First up for a few laps were the L-birds, then the Primary Trainers, then Greg Koontz doing a demo in his Piper J-3 Cub, then the Advanced Trainers went up, followed by Kevin Russo doing an aerobatic demo in his SNJ Texan, followed by Thom Richard doing a demo in his FG-1D Corsair. Next we had a Pacific Air Battle with the FM-2 Wildcat, the FG-1D Corsair, the SBD Dauntless, the SB2C Hell Diver, the TBM Avenger, and the Jap Zero, Kate and Val. Next we had a dogfight with the Wildcat and the Zero. (I think the Good Guys won!). Next the Wildcat did a demo. Then we had a battle on the ground with L-3 FAC’s and American fighters providing Close Air Support, with a little pyro for effect. Then all the Transports went up for a few laps, followed by all the bombers, followed by FiFi doing a solo. Thom Richard next took his P-40 up for a demo followed by some of the fighters doing a few laps. Mark Murphy took his P-51D “Tigers Revenge” for a spin followed by a 4-ship with the Mustangs and the Warhawk doing a Finale “Missing Man” over the crowd. Then it was over. But not really because the big Hanger Dance and Chicken Dinner was coming up next!! Saturday did not end until about 10:30 PM that night. It was a fun day being part of World War 2, June, 1944, the “TWILIGHT ZONE” for sure. See you next year in Reading, or was it FRANCE???