Reading WWII Weekend

The last few months have hurried along faster than any of us expected, and it is quite hard to believe we are halfway through the month of June. Some of us are still scratching our heads and wondering where March and April went. All that to say, that hopefully in the next few weeks, we can catch up a bit on some of the doings of "Operation Meatball."

Two weekends ago, through a great blessing and provision, we found ourselves in Reading, Pennsylvania, after a rather interesting trek up North (the rains of Texas seemed to be following us the whole way).

Each year the Mid Atlantic Air Museum (MAAM) holds a grand Airshow over the D-Day anniversary. It's called the Reading WWII Weekend. We've been hearing about this great event for several years now, but the timing had just never worked out; however this year it did, and it was fabulous. For three days, the grounds surrounding the MAAM are transformed into the various theatres of operation during the war.

Walking around you can go from fighting forces on the European front to the Marines of the Pacific. Go a little further and you run into the Brits and Russians, while just a brief turn in the road takes you to home-front America with Singers and Entertainers (like Abbot and Costello) in a little cafe, a walk-in home from the 1940s, Red Cross workers, a movie theatre, Candy-shop and more. 

One of the main highlights of the event is the large assortment of guest speakers and veterans of WWII you can come to hear. A Marine Corps veteran talk of his experiences on Iwo Jima, or a 1st Division man about the Beaches of Omaha on D-Day. An Auschwitz survivor, even a former Hitler Youth member. Their stories are remarkable. 

Because it would take a great while to catalogue the whole lovely weekend, below are some of the highlights.

One of the high points of the Reading WWII Weekend was meeting Mr. Sal Castro and his delightful wife (not pictured). Mr. Castro was a combat veteran of the 32nd Infantry Division and recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal for his service in the Civil Air Patrol during the war.

Mr. Sebastian de something-italian-and-very-hard-to-pronounce, an adorable little Italian who didn't walk - he danced everywhere - declared to me, "I'm 93, I still have my hair, and I still have my teeth!" 


One of the nicest veterans we met was Mr. K., a sailor from the USS John W. Weeks. During one of the musical programs at the event, we were just getting up to escape the rain when he motioned for us to come over. "I have a question," he said. "You look like you are dressed the way they were in the 1940s." "Yes sir!" We told him. "You see," Mr. K. said, "I am a WWII veteran, and I grew up in the 30s and 40s and that is how all the girls dressed then." He then went on to tell us about the clothes and the music of the time, tearing up at the latter. When we asked why the music made him cry, he told us that it was the memories attached to them. Some hard, many wonderful.

The song, "White Cliffs of Dover," was especially close to him and made him tear up because it reminded him of his late wife, a lovely Irish war-bride whose heart he had captured and brought home. "We weren't in love at first," he said about his wife. "We just clicked and got along real well. It was after we were married that the romance came." He told us that he saw her "27 times" during his time in the Navy, and decided to marry her when he was sailing around New Guinea. She agreed and they were happily married nearly 65 years. We eventually had to say goodbye to our lovely new friend, and as we were going he said, "I'm so glad you came over. Because I was sure you girls were dressed like they did (and like my wife did) in 1945, but I had to ask." To see the delight in his face at recalling these old memories really made our day complete, and added a fresh reminder of why we love what we do.

Faith chatting with our a dear friend John McCaskill. Mr. McCaskill is entirely to blame for getting us hooked on Honor Flight, and we couldn't thank him enough for it. 

The whole weekend in Reading was just as lovely as it could be. Though our first, there will be hopefully many more times to come.

Iwo Jima: 1945-2015

Today is the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima, the bloodiest battle in Marine Corps history. What was supposed to be a 3 day in-and-out ended up being 35 days of brutal, intense fighting between the Japanese and American forces, culminating in over 26,000 American casualties. The cost was terribly high, but the capture of the island was crucial. If we could take the Island of Iwo Jima, we could use it as a staging point to get to mainland Japan. It would also provide a much needed landing base for American bombers and P51 mustangs on their missions to and from Japan. The battle was long and hard and bloody. From February 19 to March 26, the Marines moved slowly forward, taking ground bit by bit, but at tremendous expense. Years beforehand, the Japanese had built miles of caves and tunnels underneath the ground, laid mines, prepared bunkers and pillboxes for the ultimate defense of the island. The Marines quickly found out that the only way to get the Japanese out of these pillboxes was by flamethrower, a horrible, yet effective weapon. On February 23, 1945, five Marines and one Navy Corpsman raised the American flag on Mt. Suribachi. There was still a long way to go. It would be another month before Iwo Jima was taken, but the sight of Old Glory flying high and proud sent a message to every man on that island: We are here to stay. 

10 Years ago this next week. WWII veteran and Iwo Jima survivor Ivan Hammond with two of my brothers, Jubilee (left) and me. Photo credit: 

One of my first memories of meeting Iwo Jima veterans was 10 years ago this month. For the 60th anniversary, Fredericksburg, Texas held a grand reenactment of the battle and over 25,000 people turned out to watch it. It was simply packed. I was only about 8 years old at the time, and I didn't completely comprehend the significance of it all except that my father told me, "This is an historic moment. Pay attention to the people you meet and remember them. There will not be many opportunities like this again." So I did. Over the anniversary week, I followed my dad and two brothers around, lugging a gigantic yellow and white cassette player in a little pack I carried on my back. I brought along several blank cassettes, and for every veteran we met, I would turn that recorder on and listen for all I was worth. I don't remember the names of most the Marines I met that day, but I remember standing in awe at the stories they told us. One man in particular, I will never forget.  He had on a bright red coat with pins and medals, and a red hat with gold colored trim on it; somewhere on the hat were the words Iwo Jima. I listened to the stories he told my dad and brothers, and wondered at the bravery and sacrifice of such a man. To me, only a little girl of 8, he seemed to me the oldest man I'd ever met. As I look back now, I realize he would only have been in his late 70s, a mere spring chicken compared to the fellows of today; yet what he had done for this country was amazing to me. And I've never forgotten him. Every time someone brings up the Battle of Iwo Jima, I remember that man. At one time a brave young Marine ready to conquer the world,  then standing in a grassy little area in Fredericksburg, talking with my brothers and me, his hair was white and his hands a little shaky, but his voice was strong and a spirit of fearlessness was about him that was unconquerable. I will never forget him.

Photo credit: Patrick Johnston Times Record News

This last weekend, my sisters and I were able to attend one of the last Iwo Jima Reunions. For two days we visited and talked with veterans of this great and horrible battle. Marines, Navy Corpsmen, Air Force, and even a SeaBee all gathered together for one last time in Texas to remember and pay tribute to the comrades they left behind. It was a moving experience. They told us their stories looking at maps and replica newspaper clippings. Each man had played a different and unique role in the winning of Iwo Jima, but like all true heroes, they downplayed their own actions and declared the true heroes were the ones who never made it home.

Photo credit: Patrick Johnston Times Record News

The weekend was short, but sweet. In many ways it was an apropos conclusion to my first meeting of Iwo Jima veterans 10 years ago. 10 years from now I doubt there will be any Iwo Jima veterans still alive, none left to tell their own story. The Battle of Iwo Jima stands out as the bloodiest battle in the history of the Marine Corps. More Medals of Honor were given out during this battle than any other during the war; and it was the only time Marine casualties were more in number than the enemy. The level of courage required was high, but for the Americans fighting on Iwo Jima, "uncommon valor was a common virtue." It is only fitting that, on the 70th anniversary of this battle, where so many lives were lost, we stop for a brief moment, and remember those boys who endured and sacrificed so much for you and me.

2014 WWII Veterans Dinner

At the beginning of this month, my sisters and I had one of the greatest privileges we have ever had. The occasion was a special commemorative WWII veterans’ dinner hosted by Operation Meatball and held at Dick’s Classic Garage in San Marcos, Texas. The setting was perfect.

To begin with, Mr. Dick Burdick, the Texas businessman who started the non profit museum and collected the vintage cars, is a WWII veteran himself. We were thrilled to have him and his wife join us! And the dinner tables were actually set right in the middle of some of the most beautiful vintage vehicles dating from 1929 through the 1950s, including a 1948 Tucker, a 1929 Duesenberg, and a 1931 Packard roadster. The veterans told us that being around all those cars, some from their childhood and young adult life, was a wonderful highlight of the evening. 

Our 15 World War II guests came with family and some with friends. Several veterans wore uniforms, many brought pictures of themselves as young soldiers at war. What a handsome bunch.

We had representatives from the Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force (Air Corps), Privates to Colonels, who fought in every corner of the war. Several had served in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. One survived the Bataan Death March. One was a concentration camp liberator. One returned thirty years later to the island he had served on as a missionary. Each one had a priceless story. 

Over the course of the evening, Faith sang so many wonderful 1940s classics like “Meet Me in St. Louis,” “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes,” “Begin the Beguine,” “Lili Marlene,” and “I’ll Be Seeing You,” among many others. A number of the men piped in and sang along to the delight of everyone!

Honor joined Faith singing “Don’t Fence Me In,” and Virginia sang the duets,  “Under the Bamboo Tree” and “Que Sera Sera.” Faith closed off the evening with the medley, “Bless ‘Em All,” “The Siegfried Line,” and “Kiss me goodnight, Sergeant Major” and finally, the favorite, “We’ll Meet Again.”

For dinner we served ham with pineapple and cloves, twice baked potatoes, broccoli, and Caesar salad. Honor, Providence, and Virginia served angel food cake with berries and whipped cream for dessert. During dessert, we took a microphone around to every table for each veteran to introduce himself and give a short history of his time during the war. It simply is inadequate to say that this was moving. This part was a priceless gift that these dear men gave to those of us listening. 

Our guest speaker for the evening was the distinguished Monsieur Maurice Renaud, all the way from France, who was a little boy during the events of D-Day. He captivated our attention with the moving story of his father who served as Mayor of Sainte Mere Eglise as the 82nd Airborne descended into his town, and of his mother, now called the Mother of Normandy, who spent the rest of her life tending to the graves and contacting family members of the deceased.

(see here for more of the Renaud story) The very first book written on DDay was written by Mr. Renaud’s father, Alexandre Renaud.

In a very meaningful surprise toward the end of the evening, Mr. Renaud and his friend, Mrs. Cathy Soref, of Operation Democracy, gave us three beautiful commemorative coins, one from the Amis des Vétérans Américains, one from the village of Sainte Mere Eglise, and one from D-Day 2014. We were overwhelmed. 

It was a treasured evening which we are still reflecting on and absorbing. We are keeping in touch with our new veteran friends and look forward to sharing more stories with you. We are so grateful for the support of many of you and appreciate your investment in our effort to tangibly demonstrate honor and gratitude.  We hope to do this again. 

For more photos from the evening: WWII Veterans Dinner Gallery

Photo credit: Trent Sherrill Photography and our dad.

D-Day Conneaut 2014

My siblings and I recently had the privilege of participating as civilian reenactors at the D-Day Conneaut Reenactment in Ohio this past weekend. It is the largest D-Day reenactment in the U.S., this year hosting over 1200 reenactors, and many thousands of spectators.  

Mess call! A short break in the day for the reenactors to grab a bite to eat: military style. 

2014 is not only the 15th anniversary of the reenactment but also the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion. The turnout was amazing. Besides the increased numbers of reenactors, they also received a whopping 133 WWII veterans (many of whom were D-Day veterans) who attended the event as special guests and speakers.

This kind veteran was part of Patton's army. He served in the war along with his twin and elder brother.

There is so much to tell about the wonderful veterans we met and the stories they shared with us. Each veteran we met was uniquely special, and we were so blessed to have this incredible opportunity. Please stay tuned as we write these stories down and get them out one by one. For now, here's just a few of photos (there are many more to come so look for part two shortly!).

Faith sang everywhere we went. Here she is singing "White Cliffs of Dover" to WWII Veteran Armand Carlucci. It was so wonderful to watch the veteran's faces as she sang the songs of their time. Often times, they would join in with her.

Mr. Jacob Kesiatie was stationed just a little ways from us at the San Marcos Military Hospital in Texas throughout the war. He said his favorite thing about Texas was the Bluebonnets. He had never seen anything like them before.

Honor and Pro were very much the favorites of the trip. They were stopped nearly everywhere we went by veterans and reenactors who wanted to comment on their smart uniforms. It was really wonderful to see the Navy veterans talking to them and showing them how to fold their Dixie Cups (white hats), or what the insignia on their uniforms meant.

Mr. Arthur "Pat" Engleburg told us that secret to his age (just a mere 99 1/2 years young) was gratitude and a thankful heart. He said, "Every morning I say, 'Thank you Lord for this day,' and I also say, 'thank you for making me better looking every day.'"

Let us pray that peace be now restored to the world, and that God will preserve it always.
— General Douglas Macarthur, Supreme Allied Commander of South-West Pacific

Remembering WWII: Living History, Education, and Honor

Some friends of ours up in Tennessee are putting on a good ole' fashioned, bond buying, liberty loving, veteran honoring, WWII reenactment this upcoming September 27th. From the way the Courter Family has put on past events, this is going to be the smashingest event of this fall. Vintage vehicle displays, authentic reenactors dressed to the nines, a special lecture on the music of WWII (with live music), WWII Veterans with amazing stories to share, reenactor swap and meet, lots of wonderful people and wonderful memories to make.

And here's the best news: It's all free! So you can come by yourself, or with your family, or better yet with a very, very large group and enjoy the day as a spectator. Or you can come as a reenactor and participate in their epic battles as they reenact events that happened in between D-Day and Operation Cobra. If that is not your cup of tea, you can come as a home-front reenactor and dress in the dapper styles of the time.

Some special events include a free outdoor screening on Friday night of the glorious film Desperate Journey (1942) starring Errol Flynn and Ronald Reagan, several very special WWII veterans who will have the opportunity to share their stories (something not to be missed!), a live WWII Band and much much more. You can read the full schedule here:

This is going to be a grand event, and one not worth missing out on. I highly recommend you go to this event. At least read over their schedule and webpage, because I know at the end of that you will be convinced that this is the place to be on September 27th!

Further Reading: