Just spent three days hawking my War Stories book at the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum’s annual World War II Weekend at Reading Regional Airport. It was a blast.
D.J. Cleaver from The Morning Call’s marketing office and I had a table set up in the huge vendors hangar, which doubled as a swing band’s stage and dance floor Friday and Saturday nights. We were right on the edge, where the hangar’s door opens, so we could see the P-51 Mustang doing aerobatics, a P-40 Warhawk fighter chasing a Japanese replica Aicha Val dive bomber, and we saw and heard other warbirds in the sky: a Dauntless dive bomber, an Avenger torpedo bomber, a B-25 Mitchell, a B-17 Flying Fortress, a B-29 Superfortress. (If you had $1,495 handy, you could go for a 20-minute ride in the P-51, while just $450 would give you a half-hour ride in the B-17.) The roar of engines was so loud, you could hardly talk to the person next to you.
From our table, we could look out on the outdoor stage, which had entertainment like the Manhattan Dolls, a trio that mimics the Andrews Sisters – they were terrific — and Frank Cubillo, who sings Sinatra.
Clustered around us in the hangar were the Tuskegee Airmen from Philadelphia, an ex-newspaper man from the Bergen (N.J.) Record who was selling audio CDs of veterans telling their stories, a stand with pin-up girl calendars, with two women in saucy, 1940s garb who’d pose with you and sign your calendar, leaving a lipstick smudge on your birthday. D.J. and I got to be friends with Beth Miglio from Berwick, a young woman who had self-published a book of her late grandfather’s letters, Faith in a Foxhole: War Letters To Home. She was launching the sale with her mom, who appreciated the good coffee from a stand outside the hangar as much as I did.
Imagine manning a table from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. three days in a row, trying to drum up sales. Yep, it could be tiresome. But there were so many interesting, and interested, folks to talk to. Some old vets told me their own stories, children of vets told me about their moms and dads. One man who had just lost his father, a C-47 pilot in the China-Burma-India Theater, spoke with me for a full hour through. He was alone and it seemed he needed a friend just then, so I didn’t cut him off. “I guess I’ll buy your book,” he said halfway through. Later, D.J. said I worked hard for that sale. OK, it was good that he bought the book, but it wouldn’t have mattered to me.
Occasionally there was a stunning connection: On Sunday I wore a USS Indianapolis cap my friend Steve Savage gave me. A re-enactor asked me what link I had to the heavy cruiser that had delivered atomic bomb parts, was sunk by a Japanese submarine and lost many of its crew to sharks. I said the cap was a gift after I did a story on an Indianapolis survivor, and he said, “Don Mack?” It was, indeed. It turns out Mack, who has since died, was the man’s friend and neighbor. Here’s the link to my 2010 story: http://www.mcall.com/news/local/mc-mack-indianapolis-sharks-20100729-20,0,6229377.story
Friends stopped at our table to chat. There was Mike Sewards of the Lehigh Valley Veterans History Project, looking for speakers, and Larry Miller of the National World War II Museum, there to interview vets.
The weather didn’t always cooperate. Friday was overcast all day and we got socked with heavy rain after 4 p.m. On Saturday afternoon, at 12:30, we got a big downpour, and hundreds of people packed into our hangar. D.J. and I scurried to clean off our table just before the rain blew in and drenched it. We got soaked as well. Out on the tarmac, we saw people huddled under the wings of planes, not much protection.
After we closed down Saturday, I wandered the grounds. Going through the German army re-enactors’ camp was a bit eerie: They had machine guns pointing at the path. I got up close to many of the aircraft, marveling at their size and ruggedness. And I did some buying of my own. A guy was selling hundreds of plastic model kits and offering two for the price of one. I bought two biplanes for my collection, a Curtiss Goshawk and a Stearman PT-17.
It was a fascinating weekend, and yep, we did fine selling my book War Stories: In Their Own Words, a collection of 34 of my interviews with vets over the last 13 years, representing the World War I era through Vietnam. By the way, here’s how to order it: https://secure.mcallcommunity.com/store/pages/war-stories.php