Reading Air Show – World War II Undercover

For 20 years, the Reading Air Show has highlighted the service of World War II veterans. From its humble beginnings of just a few period aircraft and a handful of World War II re-enactors, the Mid-Atlantic Museum’s World War II Weekend has exploded to 80 war birds and an estimated 1,000 uniformed posers – American, German, Aussie and others.

I have declined repeated offers to play in the re-enactors’ vintage military wonderland. But not long ago I discovered a palatable angle: honoring the clothes tradition. I bought a 1940s vintage dress. Well, this was the equivalent of Pandora’s Box. Next came two pairs of period shoes—blue cloth that matched the dress and a pair of green reptilian rockabilly heels. The wide-brimmed hat, lace gloves, sun glasses and purse were period-perfect. I could pass any so-called “thread Nazi’s” scrutiny.

My mission was straight-forward: Go to Reading and wear the “new” ensemble. Result: I experienced life as an interloper, caught in a limbo between spectator and re-enactor. I walked between gawking onlookers who had forked over $22 each to get in the gate and countless overweight and overage sergeants living their dream.

Kind strangers can make the unbearable not so bad. I had found solitude on a World War II camp stool in a GP medium tent. A (pretend) soldier introduced himself as he stretched his long, thick frame the length of his cot. We talked for a long time. We were both from the same area of Maryland. He had not lost the accent.

Cue the déjà vu: Had I seen this in “The Pacific”? Another movie? A parallel universe? We could have been in any war zone having this same conversation 70 years ago. (Ok, a female would not be in these sleeping quarters.) Another unit “soldier” came in, tore off his soaking wool jacket. We discussed language and word usage. We lamented the decline of language skills. Outside of academia, who laments language nowadays? Polite, intelligent boys. They were 30. I was thankful for the kindness of these strangers.

Evening brought a vintage party. A full orchestra warmed up for the hangar dance as the sun set. Dancing with fellow 1940s interlopers to popular World War II tunes was intriguing.

Lesson: You can cut a mean foxtrot to “God Bless America.”

While the “Thank a Vet” theme has been overdone, Reading and its War Birds are worth the trip (and the hefty entrance fee). And the re-enactor scene? Despite an isolated positive experience (and additions to my vintage clothing collection) this is not something I would do again.

I still fail to understand the re-enactors’ world.

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