BERWICK – The fourth annual World War II Weekend at Riverfront Test Track Park brought out nearly a hundred military re-enactors to give attendees a glimpse back into history and to honor those who served their country both at home and on foreign soil during the war.
The centerpiece of the event were two Stuart Tanks built in December 1942 at the borough’s American Car & Foundry Company.
To Tom McLaughlin, secretary of the Stuart Tank Memorial Association Committee, bringing the tanks “home” to Berwick was a labor of love and an opportunity to honor those who built them and those who manned them in combat.
The event began four years ago, when members of the Stuart Tank Memorial Association wanted to bring a Stuart Tank back to the borough, as an opportunity to celebrate its history and global impact.
The committee put together a “Bring Stuie Back” effort, and with the help of the internet was able to track down and purchase a Berwick-built tank named Lady Lois, with the celebration of its homecoming in 2016.
This year, the event added a second tank on loan from the Marines. It meant the event had two of only 300 tanks remaining of 15,224 produced at the foundry on display at the event.
The factory, McLaughlin said, employed 9,135 employees from 177 municipalities in Northeastern Pennsylvania.
The day’s high temperatures, which hovered in the mid-90s, did see some re-enactors leaving early, but in spite of the heat, the three-day event did draw a robust crowd, McLaughlin said.
John Liszewski made the trip from Maryland to volunteer at the event, quick to provide historical background to those attending the event.
Both McLaughlin and Liszewski said that high temperatures were a reminder that those who served in World War II, often faced sweltering heat and other physical discomfort.
In some areas, McLaughlin said, soldiers would face both heat and cold, often in the same day.
The Stuart Tanks themselves utilized air cooled engines, which prevented them from overheating in high temperatures.
David Bell, a re-enactor who came from Pittsburgh, was on hand to explain methods of communication during the war.
He explained a series of communication methods which improved with times, hard-wired devices that at first provided communication within a 17-mile radius with that radius eventually increasing to 34 miles.
Bell said unlike current communications methods which involve satellites and technology, communication equipment during World War II was both complex and heavy.
“This one weighs almost 20 pounds,” he told one young man attempting to lift the equipment that resembled a phone.
Bell said the equipment originally made a ringing sound when it was utilized, which was impractical when trying to avoid the enemy.
Eventually equipment was modified to utilize a single clicking sound.
Hans Valencia and Ryan Paces, both of New York, travelled to the event with about 20 other men to explain the maintenance of weapons during the war.
Valencia said the event served to reinforce a respect for history and an understanding of the sacrifices made by soldiers.
“We want to keep history alive,” said Valencia. “Families, especially those with children are especially grateful for our efforts.”
Those attending got a chance to learn about each aspect of the war as they walked through the event – communication, weaponry, transportation, clothing.
“Each presentation adds a bit more understanding of WWII as a whole,” Valencia said.
Vern Treat, of Glen Lyons, said as a military history buff, the event reminded him of the sacrifices made by American soldiers all over the world, as well as those made by people on the home front, providing supplies and equipment for those who were fighting.
“Berwick was on Hitler’s top ten places to bomb,” he said. “Because there were so many tanks being built here.”
Tanner Sego, 8, was enjoying the opportunity to get a “hands on” understanding of the war and its equipment.
Sego’s interest in the war, he said, started at his local library.
“I took out a book called ‘The Nazi Invasion,’” he said.
David Bell, a WWII reenactor, explains method of communication during World War II to those attending World War II Weekend on Berwick.
Bob Sandmeyer takes time to explain methods of transportation during World War II to Tanner Sego, 8, during Berwick’s World War II Weekend on Sunday.
World War II re-enactors flocked to Berwick for it’s annual World War II Weekend at Riverfront Test Track Park.
Tom McLauglin and John Liszewski stand in front of a Stuart Tank, one of two which served as a centerpiece of the Fourth Annual World War II weekend event in Berwick on Sunday.