BERWICK — Lady Lois is the tank’s nickname, but there is nothing delicate about this war machine, which will be on display at the third annual World War II Weekend on Saturday and Sunday in Berwick.
The 1942 Stuart tank was among the 15,224 built in Berwick at American Car and Foundry, which was contracted to provide tanks for the United States and allies in the war against Germany and Japan.
The two-day event at Riverfront Test Track Park on South Eaton Street is free and also will feature live bands, battle re-enactments, weapons demonstrations, other military vehicles, historical displays and food vendors. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days. The celebration includes a swing dance Saturday from 6 to 9 p.m. at Reliance Fire Hall in Berwick.
According to data provided by the nonprofit Stuart Tank Memorial Association, several thousand Luzerne County residents from scores of villages and towns traveled to Berwick to build tanks as part of the war effort.
While the majority of the workers came from the Hazleton-Shickshinny-Nescopeck region, the Wyoming Valley also was well-represented. Six came from as far away as Duryea and Avoca, 132 made the trek from Wilkes-Barre, 55 from Kingston and 46 from Plymouth.
Stuart tanks were made between 1940-44 in Berwick at the ACF site that employed 9,135 from 177 communities in Central and Northeastern Pennsylvania. Association records show the majority of workers — nearly 5,000 — were from the Berwick-Bloomsburg area, which was understandable in the pre-interstate days that made travel by car often cumbersome. But four traveled from as far as Dunmore and one from Clarks Summit.
Columbia County Commissioner David Kovach was among those who spearheaded the effort to “Bring Stuie Home.” After more than a decade of work, the Berwick-based association acquired a Stuart Tank in England, and in 2016 had Lady Lois shipped to Berwick.
Earlier this month, the operational but time-worn tank was on display at Knoebels Amusement Resort in Elysburg and at the Briggs Farm Blues Festival near Nescopeck.
Association spokesman Tom McLaughlin said spectators will be able to get close to the tank for photos and hear re-enactors tell the story about how the small but mighty “Stuie” helped win the war.
“It is 76 years old. It’s driveable, and it’s pretty much all there. But it needs a lot of cosmetic work, sandblasting, painting and everything. It also needs some mechanical work, but overall it’s in pretty good shape,” said McLaughlin. “They (festival goers) will be able to get up on the trailer and have a picture taken with the tank and get a closer look at it.”
Many people still living in the region have relatives who worked at American Car & Foundry, including McLaughlin, who said his father-in-law installed periscopes in the tanks.
The association’s tank was used by British troops in Italy as part of the U.S. lease-lend program. Brazil purchased the tank later when it feared that Argentina would join with Nazi Germany. Before being shipped to Berwick, the tank was owned by a British collector, according to warhistoryonline.com.
The Berwick site was the largest producer of armor plate at the time, producing at least 10 percent of all armor plate for the U.S. military. Every armored vehicle produced in the United States for World War II utilized at least some Berwick armor plate.
American Car & Foundry was selected by Hitler as one of 19 targets for his “Amerika Bomber” Program.
For more information about Stuart Tanks and the festival: www.bringstuiehome.org.