In these days of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan where are no front lines and uncertainty as to who is your friend and who is your enemy, there is a certain nostalgia for the days of World War II.
With World War II as a central theme but with a more general nod to the American military from all wars, the Eckley Miners' Village Associates are hosting an Armed Forces Tribute Weekend from this evening, through Sunday, July 15.
The weekend kicks off with a big band swing dance at the turn-of-the-century Freeland Park Pavilion on Front Street in Freeland to the 40s and 50s tunes of the Hazleton Philharmonic Big Band Sound. At the break, the Eckley Players will present a preview of their weekend USO show. The dance runs from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
The Armed Forces Tribute Weekend continues on Saturday, July 14 and Sunday, July 15 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Eckley Miners' Village, 2 Eckley Main St. In Weatherly, PA. with a celebration of American war heroes from the Civil War through World War II up to today's Iraq/Afghanistan Conflict. Veteran fraternal orders, active service men and women, as well as living history societies will be present to talk with guests about the past, present, and future of our military traditions.
At the Eckley Village, there will be military encampments, military vehicle and program exhibits, and living history reenactments. Jim Sweeney will be playing the bagpipes. The National Security Agency will host an exhibit on cryptography. On Sunday, St. Ann's Band will perform.
The highlight of the weekend is sure to be attributed to the ubiquitous USO Show performed by the Eckley Players on Saturday at 2 p.m. and on Sunday at 3 p.m. The reenactment group will stage a one-hour performance incorporating the songs and dances of the period.
"My mind goes back to my childhood and youth when I was privileged to be surrounded by the men who served and fought in WWII, my dad included," said Robert Vybrenner, a Vietnam vet and president of the Eckley Miners' Village Associates.
"Give me Pennsylvania coal miners," Vybrenner said-noting the feelings of an Army General. "He knew what kind of men the coal regions bred and raised. Any man who went down into the black holes of our coal mines to earn bread for his family had to have the guts to fight and win the war. Many of them did and many of them died or were wounded."
"But after the V-E and V-J celebrations, after the parades and warm homecomings, then what? Many of the men from our area were raised during the Great Depression. Working at a young age was an imperative; school was not. Brothers and sisters had to be fed. Every penny was needed. Boys with a third or fifth grade education traded their books for a pick and shovel."
"The GI Bill was great if you could take advantage of it. A fifth grade education wouldn't get you into an ivy-covered college campus. GIs returning to the coal regions for the most part had two options, move out to find work, or return to the mines. If you had a wife and children and parents living in the patch, there really was only one option-mining."
"Men who had fought in North Africa, Sicily, Burma, France, and the Pacific picked up their tools and went back to work. These men knew duty-duty to their country and now duty to their families. Sadly, many of these heroes who faced death and the horrors of war were killed in our coal mines or maimed for life trying to support their families."
"Hard coal, hard men with soft hearts is the best way to describe our fathers and grandfathers of that generation. I'm glad I got to know them."
Both the dance and the Weekend events are free active duty personnel, and a reduced admission for seniors and those who come in uniform or 40s period clothing.
For information, call: (570) 636-2070, or visit: www.eckleyminersvillagemusuem.com.