Story by Jim Opalka
Dick Fox is from Hollidaysburg, Pa. He volunteered at Butler County (BTP) on August 15, 16 and 17 for the warbird program. His father, T/Sgt E. “Ken” Fox served on the Second Schweinfurt Mission (referred to as Black Thursday) on October 14, 1943. He was part of the 306th Bombardment Group/369th Bomb Squadron.
He served on a B-17, not unlike Aluminum Overcast, that gave rides and crawl-through tours at Butler. Not a lot of room in those Fortresses.
Two-hundred-ninety-one bombers were part of that raid on Schweinfurt. One-thousand-one-hundred Luftwaffe aircraft engaged and attacked the bombers. Dick’s father had his leg nearly severed on the mission. He was one of the lucky ones. He survived the crash, hid out the night behind a tombstone, and was ultimately helped by the French Resistance.
Of the 291 B-17 Flying Fortresses, 60 were lost along with 650 men of the 2,900 assigned to the mission. Thank you for attending the bomber days and honoring the memories of all the men and women who served.
In addition, one of our beloved local veterans, Frank Ekas, flew combat missions as co-pilot in WWII on a B-24 in the European Theatre. We were proud to have him attend our event. His name appears on the side of Witchcraft. He was in the 453rd Bomb Group. Of course Frank also hangared his planes at BTP back in the day.
Approximately 3000 people attended the warbird extravaganza at Pittsburgh Butler Regional Airport (KBTP). Even if one gets picky about the less than perfect weather, all of the days were a success. Besides, we had some shelter in the terminal building where we could wait the weather out. Also there was the GP (General Purpose) tent supplied through the courtesy of the Army Reserve 377th Engineer Co out of Butler. See pics and credit.
And a great thanks goes out to those avid collectors of WWII memorabilia who volunteered their time and classic heavy metal, de-militarized, hardware:
A 1942 Ford GPW (General Purpose Willys design, and that would be Ford’s version, owned by Bill Ringeisen of Evans City. 6000,000 of this classic version were produced for the war effort.
- A 1943 Deuce-and-a-half owned by Tom Frank of Mars. Tom’s is a 2.5 ton International utility truck.
- A half-track owned by Rich Harkins of Slippery Rock has some nice de-milled weapons. It certainly makes one pay attention.
- Each of the gentlemen above are members of the Military Vehicle Preservation Association. The motto of the group is HISTORY IN MOTION. We thank them for their contribution to the warbird event.
Also, all of the above are members of the Jeep Club and that would be “The Flat Fender Club of Butler.”
In addition to all of the volunteers above we are especially thankful to be blessed to have the men and women of Civil Air Patrol Composite Squadron 712 onboard at Butler County. Their energetic devotion and professional attitude are greatly appreciated. They have volunteered and performed admirably in situations ranging from parking assistance to crowd control and national disasters on their outreach missions.
There are stories and history shrouding every warbird existing today. The ships that visit Butler on a regular basis have their tales to tell. Witchcraft, the B-24J model is no exception. This is the world’s only fully restored B-24J Liberator. Collings makes it clear that it flies to honor our veterans who served.
Curiously, this ship was delivered in 1944 to the Royal Air Force. Under the British flag it saw combat in the Pacific Theatre. At the end of the war it was shipped by the RAF to a bomber graveyard in Khanpur, India. Nothing personal there. This was of course the fate of many aircraft at the end of the war. We all know we wish our parents and grandparents had purchased a ton of them at the time and shoved them into a warehouse. Oh well.
To shorten the story, in 1984 Dr. Robert F. Collings purchased the Liberator with the intent to restore it to be used as a static display. However the foundation, that is to say Dr. Collings, was persuaded by some B-24 crewmen to restore it to flying condition. Thus, rather than exposing this historical bomber to thousands of spectators, it would shoot that number to millions. This made the restoration project at least ten times more difficult and expensive. Thank you Collings Foundation.
Of course there are more stories about the B-25 Tondelayo of the 345th Bomb Group / 500th Bomb Squadron. And the new addition to the stable of aircraft that makes this spectacular tour includes the inimitable TF-51D Mustang. This means two seats and either a joy ride for some or instruction in how to jockey around a thoroughbred fighter from WWII for others. Have a blast. Chaching, chaching! But really – it’s worth every penny. Ask anyone who has taken the ride.
The title of this little article about warbird days at Butler mentions some reenactors. You can see by the photo that they were rather young. We asked them what group they were with and the spokesman did not hesitate. “We formed our own group,” he said with confidence at least that of a light colonel.
It was hard to contain them for names and more info. They turned and headed for the door of the terminal building ready for action. Beautiful.
And speaking of the terminal building – if you look up you can see there is a new restaurant there. It is named Serventi’s. To Butlerites and those who love good food in the tri-state area this is not a new name. Talk about tradition in aircraft or restaurants and when you center in on restaurants, Serventi’s fills the bill. This is an old name in Butler when it comes to great eating-places.
We ran into Joe, the owner, and asked him about his new endeavor. He said, “Nobody is going to leaver here hungry.” And we confirmed that. Delicious, I mean really good food, plenty of it, and reasonably priced. That sounds like the old Serventi’s to me. And that’s great.
See this website for times, days, and hours of operation. And keep tuned in to the website for specials and future airport activities.