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Visitors at Williamsport WWII Weekend reach out to disappearing veterans

The Herald-Mail - 10/22/2017

WILLIAMSPORT - Veterans of World War II are fading away, and at the annual Williamsport WWII Weekend, organizers were emphasizing to youngsters the importance of being able to reach out to the walking, breathing figures of U.S. history.

Fifteen years ago, about 2,500 WWII veterans per day were dying, said Will Snyder, an organizer of the 10th annual event held Saturday and Sunday at Springfield Barn at Byron Memorial Park.

Today, about 400 WWII veterans are dying every day, he said.

Visitors to the military event on Sunday afternoon were lucky to have one of the veterans in their midst when Jack Holland, 94, of Williamsport walked in with his daughter.

Cameras clicked and people gathered around Holland.

But like many war veterans, the soft-spoken man shunned any excess attention.

"It's nice to be out today," Holland said as he sat in the back of one of the military vehicles on display.

Holland was in the 447th bomber group in the U.S. Air Force.

After Holland and his crew served 34 missions, they were sent home, according to his family. A new crew came in to take over Holland's plane, but it was shot down and everyone on board was killed, Holland's family said.

Visitors to the event on Sunday were hearing real-life stories about the war, including at Snyder's line shack. A line shack was a unit that performed maintenance on military planes.

Snyder showed a board inside his tent that would have been used to keep track of conditions on planes that returned from fighting.

One plane was categorized as PMC, meaning it was partial mission capable. In other words, the plane could be flown if needed, despite the fact that it had been struck by enemy fire and that blood had to be washed out of the cockpit when a crew member was hit.

"That's the cold, hard reality of war," Snyder said.

Exhibits were set up in the grass outside Springfield Barn, giving visitors a chance to see a military police unit and military vehicles, among other attractions.

One tent was dedicated to showcasing artwork that popped up in war time.

Although it is forbidden in the military today, soldiers with an artistic flair painted images on the fronts of military aircraft. In some cases, the images were of women, inspired by wives and sweethearts of soldiers.

The "nose art" on planes was an effective way to bolster morale, said Vance Valenzo, a member of the Allied Airmen's Preservation Society Mid Atlantic District, which hosted the event.

 
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