Warbirds soar over Reading at 24th annual World War II weekend

News photo by Emily Thiel Robert Wood, Phoenix, Ariz., June Otto, Douglassville, and Ryan Wood, Phoenix, Ariz., pose with their flag that has been around the world at the 24th Annual World War II Weekend and Airshow at the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum held June 6, 7, 8.
News photo by Emily Thiel Jim Crawford poses at FDR's chauffeur in a period car at 24th Annual World War II Weekend and Airshow at the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum held June 6, 7, 8.

With the event attracting masses to the 24th anniversary of the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum’s World War II weekend held June 6, 7, 8, efficiency is the key.

WWII veterans and reenactors offered their insights on the battles that have contributed to our freedoms as American citizens. Thousands surged the WWII event, many traveling from out-of-state for a chance to experience living history. Event staff cattled the people in from numerous parking sites, shuttling them to the airport with a style and grace only known to air traffic controllers, thanks to their arm movements and gestures.

The weekend is dedicated to bringing veterans, war aircraft, stories and history to younger generations and history buffs alike.

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“Bringing veterans to the public is so important,” Sharon Wagner said, coordinator of veteran speakers and authors for the air show for the last four years. With the average age of WWII vets being 88 or 89 years of age, Wagner said we are losing them at a rapid rate. The weekend brought in authors and veterans, as far away as Iowa, to Reading to mingle with those who share their interest in remembering the past.

WWII Veteran Ethan Smith, originally of Reading, served as a North American P-51 Mustang pilot in the 15th Air Force. Stationed in Italy, Smith was shot down by ground fire on his second flight and was forced to crash land. After the accident, he was in the hospital for the next three weeks. The 91-year-old has told the story of being shot down more times than he can count, but is glad to have survived. Smith is now a resident at The Heritage of Green Hills, Shillington, and was just one of the many vets present to share their war tales.

A true WWII weekend could not be complete without the presence of the President of the United States of America to offer his appreciation to the troops. Franklin Delano Roosevelt reenactor Delmas Wood has been attending this air show for the past 20 years. Wood won a international speaking contest, which got him into his current profession as President. But Wood thinks of it as anything but a profession.

“I live it, I believe I am the President,” he told Berks-Mont Newspapers. “It’s so exciting to meet these people and cry with them.”

When 2,000 people, made up of veterans, families and WWII history buffs, are there to hear Wood present FDR’s “Day of Infamy” speech, he is transformed into the President. Wood offers a strong message to the young people, wanting to tell the “youngsters to take a look a the flag, [veterans] gave their all for your freedoms. Keep that in mind.” It is the connection he has with the boys who served overseas that keeps him coming back year after year.

He credits the veterans for keeping the aircraft up to inspection to offer the public a once in a lifetime chance of soaring around in a warbird.

Reenactor Jim Crawford, chauffeur for “the President,” likes to stay “as authentic as possible” while working and even removed his eyeglasses and watch before posing for a photo, as the items were not from the period era.

Everyone who attends the air show has their reasoning for coming. Robert Storm, a graduate of Boyertown, has not missed the air show for the past 14 consecutive years, even after he relocated across the country.

“My dad grew up during WWII,” Storm said of what introduced him to the history of WWII. At age 18, Storm joined the airforce and has now served in the military for 26 years. Today he is in the International Guard working as an Air Refuelling Pilot.

At last year’s air show Storm’s mother, June Otto, Douglassville, and son Ryan Storm, 16, Phoenix, Ariz., went up for a ride in a North American B-25 Mitchell. Flights for passengers and pilots are available during the air show, costing hundreds for the opportunity. Otto is always looking for the next thing to cross off her bucket list.

In the 1950s, she was part of the Civil Air Patrol, where she won an Intranational Exchange, getting to travel to Hawaii. From those experiences she acquired a love of air crafts and has yet to be able to shake it.

“We bring chairs here and sit all day,” Otto said, as she and her grandson watched Storm take off in a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress.

The large plane was designed for and used to bomb Germany. Having experiences inside these large air crafts, such as a Douglas C-47 Skytrain and a Beechcraft C-45, led Otto to admire the sacrifice these men made.

“I wonder how do they react, sitting in the plane about to leave and to not know if you will come back... I can’t imagine what the feeling was,” she said. “I admire these pilots and crews more than anything.”

The family’s love for WWII history is passed along through the generations, with Ryan Storm, 16, following interest. While Robert Storm was stationed in Qatar, he acquired an American flag that has since been all over the world from Gettysburg to the South Pole. “It flew on a B-1 bomber in Afghanistan. I got it back and from there have taken it everywhere,” Storm said.

Storm hopes that his son, and his son after that, will continue the tradition to keep his book of photos of the glad going.

“The flag was on all my deployments,” he said. Storm has a book filled with photos of the flag and gets signatures of WWII vets where ever he goes. Ryan Storm now has started his own book to collect veterans’ signatures who served in Vietnam. Storm always shakes the hand of a veteran in thanks of their service, Otto said of her grandson.

With tours, planes, period dress, veterans, reenactors, authentic weapons and gear, and music, there is something for every one. The evenings Friday and Saturday ended with a 1940s style Big Band concert and dance, where period attire is all the rage. If you have not yet attended this event, make sure you come out next year for Reading’s WWII weekend -- it is a true experience.

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About the Author

Emily Thiel

Emily Thiel is the editor of The Southern Berks News and is the Community Engagement Editor for Berks-Mont Newspapers. Emily joined Berks-Mont in March 2013. She graduated from Kutztown University in 2011 with a degree in English with a concentration in Cultural and Media Studies. Emily is a native of Allentown, Pa. Reach the author at ethiel@berksmontnews.com or follow Emily on Twitter: @sthrnberksnews.