This weekend in Reading, we all have the opportunity to thank and pay tribute to some of the nation's oldest soldiers the men and women from the Greatest Generation as the Mid Atlantic Air Museum presents its 22nd annual World War II event.
When it comes to the living history experience, the Reading show ranks among the best anywhere. Friday is arrival day, or what the re-enactors call "A-Day", as many of the vintage aircraft touch down at the airport.
In late morning, a convoy of military vehicles will move out from the airport to the city center, giving Berks County residents a close-up look at some of the vintage vehicles that helped the Allies wear down their enemies on the European and Pacific battlefronts.
On Saturday and Sunday, the airport grounds will resemble a wartime staging area for the more than 1,700 WW II military and civilian re-enactors and the dozens of combat and support units, representing many nations. The simulated fight by re-enactors in a mock village is always a highlight.
As a teaching tool for youngsters, the sights and sounds created during this unique weekend can't be experienced through the pages of a textbook. Here, they can meet, speak with and hear from actual WW II participants who will be sharing their personal stories at numerous speaking venues. Since the WW II personalities are now in their 80s and 90s, there won't be a better opportunity to say thank you to those who former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw proclaimed our Greatest Generation.
Just yesterday, I received an email concerning another fallen hero from Rev. Al Mascherino, director of the Flight 93 Memorial Chapel in Shanksville, Pa. It concerned the passing of Van T. Barfoot three months ago at the age of 92.
Barfoot, who enlisted in the Army in1940, was a 25-year-old veteran soldier when he distinguished himself on a battlefield in Carano, Italy. He advanced through a minefield, taking out three machine gun positions that had been raking his comrades, and returned with 17 German prisoners of war.
Remarkably, his work wasn't finished. Later that day, he destroyed three German tanks sent in to retake the machine gun positions.
Barfoot, who retired as a colonel after also serving in Korea and Vietnam, was awarded the Medal of Honor.
Before he died last March at the age of 92, Van Barfoot found himself in another battle this time against his very own homeowners' association which said it was unsuitable for him to fly the American flag on a 21-foot flagpole outside his suburban Virginia home. The rules of the association specified a flag could only be flown on a house-mounted bracket.
After being denied a permit for the pole, Barfoot showed the same hard-charging focus that propelled him to do battle 67 years earlier. He erected the flagpole anyway and his story made national news.
"In the time I have left I plan to continue to fly the American flag without interference," a resolute Barfoot told The Associated Press.
Sensing it was in a no-win situation, especially from a public relations standpoint, the neighborhood association backed off and agreed to allow Barfoot to fly his flag.
It's that kind of firm resolve that we respect and honor in the lives of the men and women of our Greatest Generation who fought against Germany, Italy and Japan seven decades ago to save the world from Axis domination.
By Jim Zbick