Sunday, June 05, 2005

WWII Weekend

Originally uploaded by AviatorDave.
The meteorological curse of the last two years was lifted - just barely - for the annual WWII Weekend airshow and reenactment in Reading, Pennsylvania. It did rain Friday night, wetting things down a bit for the intrepid Civil Air Patrollers who camped out; but Saturday stayed dry, with a broken overcast that probably saved things from going right into heat-and-sunburn mode.

The show is one of the largest surviving airshows in eastern PA, a major event for the quiet new airport and the resident Mid-Atlantic Air Museum. (Gail and I visited the museum a few months ago, when it was cooler and all-but-deserted save for a few Amish aviation enthusiasts.) In addition to the airshow, hundreds of people from the WWII reenactment community converge to put on a full show; combat reenactments, authentic military camps and exhibits, and best of all - a real 1940s-style swing band in the main hangar Friday and Saturday night.




M*A*S*H, anyone?
I drove down (oh, the ignominy) as my plane is still in pieces on the hangar floor at TML, getting its annual inspection. But I wanted to see the event, and check in on my crew - the C.A.P. provides major support for the activity, and some of my squadron officers and cadets were there. I arrived just as a vintage Grumman "Avenger" torpedo bomber rumbled overhead, and checked in at C.A.P. H.Q.

The show was great, machine guns popping away as vintage Japanese aircraft made bombing runs; then the Allies took the skies, in displays by a British "Hurricane" fighter, hero of the Battle of Britain, and a Russian Yak-9. Eventually all of the planes were put through their paces, and I walked around snapping photos - and admiring the time, effort and money that people put into their hobbies. Most, but not all, of the larger antique planes are maintained and flown by museums; but many of the smaller craft, and the old jeeps and trucks and halftracks, are kept running by private owners.

Besides having fun, they all work to preserve the history of that era, and it does make a strong impression to see it all live; full-color, realtime, sights, smells and sounds. But I couldn't help but remember that it is a war that's being recreated, and of course the one element missing is the blood. I quietly reminded a few of the kids that these weren't toys or sportscars, but military hardware, built for a grim purpose in a grim age.

But I got caught up in the day too, and enjoyed myself. I met one of the original Tuskeegee Airmen, and looked over a Fairchild 24 flown by the Civil Air Patrol during the war; when the search missions were not for lost civilians, but German submarines lurking off the Jersey Shore. And I was happy to see the cadets having fun, learning how to jitterbug for the hangar dance - while greyhaired soldiers and sailors swapped stories, and the U.S.O. girls adjusted the lines on their stockings.