Aviation Celebration 2011 relives World War II history

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Millville, NJ — Aviation Celebration 2011 picked up where the history books left off.

World War II history came alive Saturday, Oct. 15, at the city’s municipal airport, with views of battle-tested aircraft, firsthand stories from veterans and a visit from re-enactors who set up camp. The Aviation Celebration has become an annual tradition, hosted by the Millville Army Air Field Museum.

“It’s fascinating to talk to the men who were actually there,” first-time attendee Brian Juzwiak of Philadelphia said. “You can’t get this from a history book.”

Visitors’ jaws dropped as they took in a dozen warbirds, mostly World War II-era aircraft, including two B-25 bombers, a Spitfire, anĀ F4U Corsair and the legendary P-47 Thunderbolt, the namesake for Millville’s sports teams.

Tunes from the 1940s crackled over the loudspeakers. It was music to the ears of local World War II veterans Owen Garrison, Bill Hogan, John McCabe and George Canning, who were on hand to share war stories and enjoy the familiar sights of the planes themselves.

The event was a static display allowing curious aviation buffs and newcomers alike to inspect the aircraft up close. Multiple fly-bys were arranged to show off the loud power of the old planes.

Weather hurt the event, however, with heavy winds causing an entire fleet of planes from the Experimental Aircraft Association to withdraw. Six vendors couldn’t make it, and even the inflatable bounce house had to be taken down for safety precautions.

“The wind didn’t cooperate,” Lisa Jester, the museum’s executive director, said. “But we’re being really positive. It’s all about preserving this history.”

The history wasn’t limited to aircraft. The museum’s newly restored “deuce and a half” — a 2.5-ton Army truck — joined a rare 1945 Studebaker Weasel off-road vehicle and a 1941 Dodge Army SUV.

The Weasel’s owner, Rob Giunta of Reading, Pa., was eager to answer questions about the unique ride.

“You park this next to a Corvette and any man would come to this first,” Giunta said.

Giunta, who boasted about driving the tank-like vehicle snow 70 inches deep two winters ago, joined the ranks of re-enactors of the 78th Infantry of the 309th Regiment 1st Battalion of World War II, who were dressed in full authentic Army regalia.

The encampment was just one several aspects that added to the authentic feel of the day.

The 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor was commemorated Saturday with a delivery of President Franklin Roosevelt’s address. Attendees of a private party hosted by airplane collector Bill Duffy walked around in Hawaiian leis.

Army veteran Ron Frantz of Millville recalls he was 19 years old, painting a shed, when he heard about the Pearl Harbor attack.

“I couldn’t believe it,” said Frantz. “I was filled with anger.”

His response? Join the National Guard.

The Holly City native was stateside during World War II, guarding the homeland, and spent 1956-58 in an Army tank patrol keeping his eye on the German border.

Today, Frantz volunteers at the museum every morning to help preserve the historic site.

“Nowadays kids don’t seem to care as much,” he said. “But an event like this feels great because they’re paying attention. I’m here to make people aware of what happened. Makes me proud to be able to tell ya.”